Friday, February 29, 2008

Werner Interviews Romeo JD of the Boogie Boys! (Part 3)

...Continued from part 2. Or click here for part 1.

So, what did you do during the break between Sweet Sensation and your current projects, which we'll come to?

I actually just started working. I got into telecommunications, man, Telecom. Doing transmission work and with data circuits and stuff like that, which is how I'm really paying the rent right now. It was big back in those days, then kinda fell apart with the dot comers and all of that, but it's starting to come back now. And I'm still working, still doing telecom, and I keep that. I tell young cats now in the business, get something under your belt, man. Don't ever abandon your passion. If you feel like hip-hop is your passion, then learn the business. Learn about publishing, learn production, learn all the aspects of the music industry. You don't have to be a rapper to be in the music. If you're a songwriter, be a songwriter; but there's so many aspects in the entertainment industry where you can be lucrative. But while you're working on that, you gotta hold up your manhood and get a job. Get your degree. I thank god I developed that telecom skill, because that's what helping me eat right now, you know, and take care of my seed, my family. But if music is your passion, you'll never be able to abandon it.

But looking at the scene now, looking at hip-hop, it's kind of distressing to see that everything is about guns, hoes, drugs, cars and whatever. I know there's a lot more avenues and aspects to hip-hop, like the stages where Public Enemy, KRS and people like that were using hip-hop as a tool to reach their people; but all that got put to the wayside when all that gangsta stuff came out. And it's a shame because hip-hop is a tool that we need to use to communicate, because kids'll listen to hip-hop more than their teachers or parents or priests. So if that's the primary channel of communication we've got, how can we not use that to reach out to them and show them that there are other aspects to life that they could pursue? There's nothing wrong with jewelry and having a hot whip or getting money, but it's not all there is. And anybody can make money, but what we need to learn is how to keep money… and how to make money make money. It's just something we don't get trained in, in urban cultures, in terms of finance. And we need to pay more attention to that.

So I decided to get back in. And also, besides the seriousness, I think cats miss being able to party instead of listening to records about murder. There's some stuff like that that I dig, just because I'm digging hip-hop, you know? Like I dig Mobb Deep; they're one of my favorite groups. I don't necessarily aspire to the things they discuss, but I love their approach to hip-hop. Sometimes I get past the lyrics and I get into the flow, but if I want to hear lyricists, there's people like Rakim, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, cats like that. I still aspire to hear lyricists and wordsmiths. Like my favorite from this era would have to be Jadakiss or, um… I even gotta give it up to Eminem. It's all about the wordplay; it ain't about black or white or whatever. If you're sick with words, you're sick with words. So for me, when there was the prospect of working with Melle Mel, I was like, "oh hell yeah."

Somebody got at me and said that he was working on some stuff and wanted to hear some beats. So I let him hear a couple of things, and he was diggin' the production approach. So one song turned into two, and two songs turned into three, which turned into eleven. And we ended up recording pretty much the whole album here in my facilities. And for me, whether you sell records or not, it was just an honor to be a part of that process. You know, just last year, The Furious Five became the first rap group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That's a big thing, and couldn't've happened to a nicer dude.

So that's how all that jumped off, and after doing that with Mel I was like, I'm not gonna be able to sleep and rest until I put out another record. And that's why I jumped right back in and am working on my joints right now.

But you've done a little more production, too, during that time, right? Like I think there was an artist named KDM?

Yeah, yeah, KDM. Damn, how you know about that? Wow… that's crazy that you know about that. Before or around the same time I started working on the Mele project, I opened up a studio in Queens. And one of the main artists I was working with, her name was Antel. And she was an R&B singer… she was just kind of raw and didn't really have any studio experience. But she made a demo, and I could listen through the demo and hear that she was actually a pretty good songwriter and had a nice voice. So we spent about a year in that facility doing that album, and KDM was a project that came up during that time; and working on his project actually paid the rent while I had that studio open.

He had a real hot joint on that album called "Beach." You know, he was like a reggae artist. I really don't know what happened with that project. I know we finished that album… I think he put it out on the internet or whatever. I didn't really hear anything about it after that. So, yeah, I had artists like him and a couple of other little independent cats that I was trying to work with. I'm trying to work with people who are serious about their art, but it's hard when you're grindin'. Some of them don't have jobs, some of them are going to school, some of them are hustling but they don't really have the money to pay for hundreds of dollars of studio time. So I was working out a deal with them where I wasn't charging them by the hour, I was charging them by the song, and give them the track and the studio time and everything included. Because when you're new, a lot of them have been rapping and writing for years but they've never been in the studio before, and it can be a little bit of pressure. If you're paying $35 an hour, and you've got four hours to get your joint done… when you're in the booth you're like, "damn, I can't mess up!" It's a lot of pressure for an artist. So my approach was to be like, "yo, you pick a day when you're ready to do your track. You just come in, relax, eat, do whatever you do, and just record. You're not on the clock, you just record 'till you get it right." And they appreciate that approach. Sometimes it's harder to make money that way, but like I said: I never got into hip-hop just to be rich. For me, it's important to preserve the culture and if I could - if I was rich - I'd have free studio time and free beats for everybody.

But that started to get a little too expensive… the Antel thing fell apart. She decided to go do her thing after I showed her how to record and make hits and how to write songs… Well, I didn't show her how to write songs, but I showed her the ins and outs of how to make a record professionally. But she got different aspirations and she went on her way and did whatever, and I ended up closing that studio down and bringing everything back home. And that's where I am now. The lab is in Harlem, in my home; I've got a separate bedroom dedicated to it. And I stepped it up. You know, a lot of the stuff I was using was from fifteen years ago... technology changed a lot, so I had to step up. I got, not a whole lot of pieces, but just a few primary and high-end pieces, and it's just a real good sound coming out of that room. I've got cats that come in here that spend money to go in million dollar studios, and they say, "yo, you've got a better sound coming out of there than the million dollar studio I recorded in." And that makes me feel good. So I don't really want to be in the studio business, that's not what I do. But getting people a few beats together and getting a little paper, it's paying the bills.

Are you expecting to do more with Melle Mel at this point? Is he planning a follow-up album to Muscles?

Yeah, Melle stays working. He's working on a tour right now which is gonna be him, Sugarhill and I think Kurtis Blow. He just stays busy. In the interim, while working on that album, we also did - there was this lady named Maura Casey who wrote a children's book called The Portal In the Park. And it's a book teaching kids how to deal with their emotions, like anger, frustration, and she incorporates things like bio-fitness; and Melle Mel did the narration of the whole book. He did five or six different characters, and we did six songs. I produced six tracks and we recorded the whole audio book here in Black Solaris Studios, and we just finished that a few months back. It's out there… available at Amazon and all the usual outlets. And we just did a little recording a few weeks ago, because he just did a promotional thing for Dr. Oz, because he's working for a national school program with Dr. Oz. And he mentioned he wanted to get back in the lab and start working on some other stuff.

But that Muscles album - that's not dead yet. We're still working on the marketing campaign for that, because the problem is that album never really got heard.

It must've done well in some circles, though; because I know in some places I check for the album and single've both sold out.

Yeah, yeah. It moved some units, but it should've got more recognition, or… it needs more exposure than it got. They're working with a whole other marketing team now. So before he just throws a whole other album out there, we're not giving up on the Muscles album yet.

So you think another single off of that?

Definitely. I definitely think so. There's one song on that album called "Crossfire" and it's about the gunplay on the streets and all that. It's so deep; it's like classic Melle Mel. It brings tears to your eyes when you hear it, so I hope that's the next single. I mean, it's not for me to call, but there's definitely some singles left. But like I said, he stays working. He's like, yo, throw me some beats, because that's his work ethic. If he can ever get his ass out of the gym, because that's where he lives! So I don't know if I'll be doing the whole next album, but you know, I've gotta get one banger on there.

Well, there were a couple other producers on that album, though, right? Muscles, I mean?

Yeah, there were two other producers actually that did songs.

I think one was Dame Grease.

Yeah, Dame Grease did one and Rsonist did the other one. They were hot tracks.

So, was that something where Melle went off on his own to get those tracks recorded, or were you all in the studio together?

I think he may actually have had those done before he started working with me. I'm not sure. But I never worked with those cats before, nah. I didn't have any contact with them at all.

Ok, and now I know you're working on your solo album as Bliss.

Yeah, Bliss the Illest album is taking a long time because: myself, personally… I don't know. Some days when I come in I'll record a party song, because I feel people just want to get back into partying, and sometimes I'll record something that's just real grimy and angry, depending on what kind of day I had or whatever. And it's real mixed up. On the one hand, I don't want to confuse people, but on the other hand, I am who I am, and I think the best approach is to just stay real with it. So if I record something love and mushy, or if I record grimy, it just is what it is. So I'm recording like fifty songs, and I'm just gonna pick like twelve hot ones.

I would've had it done a long time ago, but when I work on my album, I don't wanna work on anything else. So working with Mel, that pushed me back like a year. And now, to be honest, I'm actually working with another artist, his name is Phase 1. Spanish kid, a rapper, he's nasty. Got half of his album done. So, once I'm done with him, I'm gonna jump on this Bliss album. So, I'm working in between… on the train or whatever, and when I get a chance to cut it, I cut it.

Right now, I'm also in a transition stage because over the last year - on the production end - I've been working with Sonar. But I just recently switched platforms to Logic. So now I'm working on a Mac, which is a whole new beast, but I'm kinda combining it. The new Intel Mac can run Windows programs, so I run Sonar and Logic. And since I've still got a learning curve, if I've got something I wanna get done and I'm feeling it, I just jump into Sonar and get it done. But I'm really liking Logic right now. I invested into a few high-end pieces like pre-amps for my mics, but I'm still old school with my approach to hip-hop. Like everything is in a digital domain, but I can't really get away from that Analog sound; it sounds real good. But at the same time, the digital is really convenient when it comes down to editing the audio and processing. We're at this stage where, if you've got a few grand, you can build a studio in your bedroom that would've cost a good two hundred, three hundred thousand dollars just a few years ago.

Especially with hip-hop, I've stepped back into making my production approach simple. It's not about how much stuff you've got but what you do with it, and I'm walking the line right now with samples… I'm still not that crazy about using samples. Because that's the whole thing right now, people sampling choruses and pitching it up to get that Alvin and the Chipmunks sound. It's cool or whatever, but I've never been one to conform to what everyone's doing, so you're not gonna hear none of those pitched up choruses on my album. Not to knock cats who do it, get your money, man; but that's not what I do. And I'm hoping that people will be able to respect my production because it won't sound like whatever everybody else is doing. And I'm hoping I don't curse myself like that Boogie Boys curse, taking it that one step too far! But I'm not really worried about what nobody feels; I'm just doing what my heart says where my music should be right now.

So what exactly have you got coming out? Like, anticipating the future as much as you can, what can people expect when?

Well, I've got this new artist I'm working with… it's actually a dirty South record coming out next. The artist's name is Tuolles Par, and the record is called "Shugga Mama." That's the next project coming from Black Solaris.

And when can we expect that? And the Bliss stuff?

In like a month; that's the first single. And then, the first Bliss single… a couple months. By the summer.

And is that gonna be on vinyl?

Yeah, I respect vinyl. There's still a lot of DJs that stay scratching vinyl or buying their music on vinyl, so I'll also be putting stuff out on other formats, the internet or whatever. Like there's DJs now, they don't even have to carry crates, they just come in with their laptops, and they've got 300,000 songs on there. But I'm always gonna make sure my music is available on vinyl, too.

So there you have it. Thanks to Romeo/Joey/Bliss for reaching out and then sticking it out through my laundry list of questions. He does have a myspace; where you learns ome more and listen toa couple tracks he did off of Muscles. But he's in the proces of putting his official, proper website together now, so look for to be up soon and then that'll be the official spot to check for everything he's working on. Also keep an eye out for Tuolles Par (I heard "Shugga Mama;" it's a trip), and check out if you're interested in that children's book with Melle - you can hear some of the music on there, too.

Werner Interviews Romeo JD of the Boogie Boys! (Part 2)

...Continued from part 1.

So, going back for a second to cover some little things we kinda skipped over… you guys had some songs on the soundtrack to a movie called Enemy Territory… there was like a four-song EP.

Yeah, that was a Ray Parker Jr. movie that didn't do jack. I think the main song on that was "Dealin' With Life," off our second album, and Lil' Rahiem was actually the creator of that song. I gotta tell you, man: a lot of what happened back then in the 80's is like a big blur to me now. I don't even remember how that happened… back then, I was just kinda drifting. I just wanted to be in the studio, and if something was jumping off, it was cool. And I wasn't even really paying attention to where anything was coming from. If I was paying attention, I would've learned a lot earlier about publishing!

So from there you went on to Romeo Knight, like you said… do you know who did that cover, because that was classic.

Yeah, that was an artist from New York who was one of the biggest dogs in graffiti, whose name was Phase II. Boogie Knight hooked that up, as a matter of fact. That was crazy, we had a whole Egyptian thing going on with the pyramids and being born on January 13th, 1964 - Phase dug deep on that. Me and Boogie always talked about old R&B who had album covers we used to love, like Earth Wind & Fire. So yeah, that cover was crazy.

Also on that album, in the liner notes, you've got The Awesome Two, Teddy Ted and Special K, credited as "special hip-hop consultants." What does that even mean? What did they do?

Well, the Awesome Two were actually the first cats to interview the Boogie Boys. They ultimately ended up taking us on the road a little bit… As a matter of fact, I talked to Special K yesterday. Those cats are some of the few people I maintain contact with in the industry after all these years. And they are still doing their thing, they're still doing a show on Sirius Satellite radio. So more than likely, if I get this situation going and go on the road, that's probably who I'm gonna have handling things. They're still in my circle, and the circle is small.

So, they were more credited for being involved like promotionally?

Actually, they've been in this hip-hop thing since the beginning. So we would like consult them with beats and concepts we were working on, on the album - and like the show, how we put it together. And they ultimately took us on the radio, like Special K was road manager and Teddy Ted would DJ for us. That's a friendship that I seriously treasure in this music industry. Some people are acquaintances, some people are business acquaintances, some are friends and some are just real cats… and the Awesome Two, they're all of the above, and still are.

And you also had a DJ Dynamite credited on that album?

Yeah, Dynamite was a guy named Daryl who also went to Brooklyn Tech with Boogie and I, and yeah, he did some cuts on that album. Wow. You bring me back… like I said, I lot of the stuff we did in the 80's are like a blur and Dynamite… I don't know where he is these days.

So how did you transition from being an MC and singing into the production end of it?

Well, during the production of all the albums, my favorite part was being in the studio. We used to be in the studio for hours and we recorded most of the Boogie Boys' stuff in a studio called Unique Recording here in New York. It was a real high-end studio here in New York with state of the art equipment… like we were one of the first artists using an instrument called the Fairlight. The only other artist using that instrument was Stevie Wonder. So I really got into being at the boards while we were recording, and I got into using drum machines. And back then we used something called Sequential 440, and the 808 drum machine of course, the classic. And it really wasn't about sampling, we were using the real 808 drum machine. And I just always dug it. So when I started making money, I didn't really buy a whole lot of jewelry - I bought some jewelry, you know - but most of my money went to keyboards and drum machines, and I kept all that stuff at home. And I built a little studio at the crib: a little four-track studio. That's where I wrote "Hooked On You" for Sweet Sensation and where I did production for the Boogie Boys' stuff. You know, we didn't get no production credit, but we did a lot of our own stuff. Like Boogie Knight, on alot of the songs he originated, he did a lot of his own drum programming. I did my own drum programming, keyboard playing and stuff. And I really got into it, man. And when I got back into it, I had to dust off all the stuff I had kept in my closet!

So I kept my focus on keeping things simple. What I learned in the room that they had built in Queens, there was a lot of stuff… there was a bunch of samplers, a bunch of sound modules and just a whole lot of stuff in there. But what I realized when I came home, is that it's not really about what equipment you have. There's a lot of cats out there with million dollar studios producing garbage. I learned it's not about how many things you have… when you had a small system like I had, you just had to make every sample count. So I went from a room that had like twelve samplers to a room that just had one, and I only had enough memory to take like four or five samples. So that meant that every sample I took had to be the bomb. That really taught me how to simplify my production approach, and I kinda still live by that today.

Yeah, when you listen to the Boogie Boys albums… right up to the last, there's a unique, really strong production sound to it. And there's a few recognizable samples, like obviously "Fly Girl," but for the most part it's something different, and really distinct.

Yeah, yeah. It was really kind of a blessing and a curse for us. Because, like with some of the songs I did, the approach was to try to do something different than everybody else was doing. I didn't really have anything against sampling, it's just that that's what everybody was doing, so I was trying to get more into clean instruments and playing sounds and being original with it. The problem was that we would present the songs in a real simple and basic format: like a hot beat, maybe a little sample, and a bassline, keyboard… a little sprinkle hear and there. But then, after we got into the studio, the producer would like bring in other keyboard players and start adding shit… mad strings and all kinds of crazy stuff. So it ended up being a lot more polished than it should've been; and that's something that Boogie always used to beef about. Like, "yo, it's not street enough. You're making it too pretty." Like we had a song called "Always On My Mind;" it was like a slow jam, a ballad. We were actually doing some singing on it, but the original joint was like real raw. And when it came back, it wasreal polished up.

You know, I'm not really criticizing the producer to a degree, because he was just trying to be on the next level. Sometimes you've gotta do that; it's a risk you take. But at that time, we were like the only group that was on a major, major label, and we had to do something to try and separate ourselves. But you have to be careful, taking yourself so far that you take yourself out of your element. That's why on the Romeo Knight album we tried to make sure we reached back and had a couple of joints that were just real basic and raw. We had a song called "This Is Us," that was my favorite joint on that album. It had just this beat, you know? Another joint Boogie wrote was "Pitbull," and that's the kinda joint we really wanted to make sure we had on that album. And then we had a couple joints that were a little more musical or whatever, because some people expected that from us.

But, you know, that's kind of our legacy - we never really got as big as some of the other rap groups did at the time. But people who really listened to the Boogie Boys and got into it, really loved us, you know, for what we did. And I don't regret anything; it was all experience.

So, from what you were saying earlier to sounds like… was there sort of two separate stages of production? Like where you guys would do a rough version of the song, and then where you'd go to like Ted Currier for a second pass?

Yeah, we were presenting them with the basics of what it was. We'd come up with what we were saying, come up with our beats… like I said, we did that programming ourselves. And then Ted would take it in the studio and sometimes yeah, he would call in other keyboard players. Like one guy he always used to use was Gary Henry. Phenomenal keyboard player, but again, some of the stuff just went too far, like with the orchestration. But like I said, I'm not trying to knock Ted, because he was trying to make our album sound different than everybody else's. And even from working on the stuff like "Fly Girl," we used the emulator on that - you know, the "fly- fly- fly- fly," and all that - and a lot of people weren't really using it; we were like one of the first ones to use the emulator and do all that sampling stuff, which was cool. And also, on one of the songs, I think it was "Colorblind World," we had The Funkadelics - the original Parliament Funkadelics - doing backgrounds on the song.

Oh wow; I didn't realize that was them.

Yeah, yeah. That was like phenomenal for me because Parliament and George Clinton was the reason I ever got into it. The first concert I ever went to when I was young the Flashlight Concert. "Star Child" and all that, "The Bop Gun." I was young, man. I was so small, I had to stand up on the back of the chair in The Garden and hold onto the person's shoulder in front of me - I didn't even know them. But back in the days, it was love like that. I was young and my moms let me go to that concert; I couldn't believe it. And when I saw them, I was like, "yeah, that's what I wanna do."

So it was real deep for me to work with The Funkadelics. Also, there was another cat that played keys on the album; his name is Rob Kilgore. He's a synthesizer genius, and he actually did most of the synthesizer on Shannon's stuff, "Give Me Tonight" and all that. And that Shannon album was the album I used to play… because I used to have a DJ crew, too. So we had big speakers and that whole set-up for outside, and I used to play those big speakers inside, full blast, sitting in the middle of the room listening to the Shannon album. So when I found out we were gonna use Rob Kilgore who played on that shit, I was like blown away.

Things like that - working with Ted and having the budget gave us access to a lot of stuff that other people didn't have. And, like I said, that was a blessing and a curse. Because other people didn't have access to all of that, so they kept it grimy and gutter, and that was part of the sound of hip-hop. We were just a little too polished and a little too far ahead of our time, as far as our production approach went.

That's interesting, though, because if you listen to like Boogie Knight's stuff after he left Capitol, he didn't really take it anymore street. It still had that heavy kind of production sound, plus a lot of dance and love songs… he kept going in that direction.

Yeah, I don't know what that was. I think he did that overseas in Germany, and I think maybe he was trying to appeal a little bit more to what the European hip-hop appeal was. But the original, basic and raw hip-hop, that was in his soul. There ain't no question that's where he came from. But he was also a visionary. He wasn't afraid to try different things and do different things. You know, really nobody would listen to him or us when we would complain about the stuff at Capitol, because the reality,coming off a record as big as "Fly Girl," there was a lot of pressure to try and get another hit. It was like a shot in the dark. Like, damn, do we abandon what we did to begin with, or try to follow the formula and harden it up a little bit, or what? It's hard to know when you're in the middle of it; and you don't know until after whether you made a mistake or not. Even afterwards, if the record didn't get big, that doesn't mean you didn't do the right thing.

We were stuck with Capitol who actually learned on us. They had no idea what to do with hip-hop. They got "Fly Girl" and didn't know what to do with it. We were telling them that "Fly Girl" was the hit, and they disagreed. They wanted to put out "City Life" because it had the singing in it and everything. And we were like, "yeah, that's something that we do, but we gotta hit our market first. Put 'Fly Girl' first, then we can come with the other stuff." So we compromised: we put out "City Life" as the A-side and "Fly Girl" as the B-side; so when it came out, DJs were like, "yeah, 'City Life' is hot," but then when they flipped it over and heard those drums it was like, "oh shit… what's this?" So that's how it jumped off; and the streets is gonna make happen what they want to happen. So "Fly Girl" is the record that popped off and they still didn't do a video for it. People were running in the stores trying to find "Fly Girl" for weeks and weeks, and they didn't have any copies in the stores. So Capitol got caught with their pants down. Doug E Fresh came out with "The Show" and they had mad records in the stores, so he sold crazy records and we got shitted on.

The catch was, by the time they decided they needed to do a video, the record was "You Ain't Fresh," and that's why the video ended up being for "You Ain't Fresh." When really all they had to do was throw out a cheap video of "Fly Girl" and we would have blown up really crazy if they had done that. But it is what it is.

To be continued again, immediately...

Tags: , , ,

Werner Interviews Romeo JD of the Boogie Boys! (Part 1)

Earlier this week (that's right, this isn't "Necro'd" - it's a brand new interview), I had the chance to speak to a real old school legend who reached out to me. Romeo JD, of the Boogie Boys. And we had a really long, in-depth discussion - we got to cover everything, from the forming of the group, to the production equipment they used, to his production work for Melle Mel and others under his new name, Joey Mekkah. He's also working on a solo album as Bliss the Illest with his production company, Black Solaris Entertainment... but I'll let him tell it:

Well, let me start be asking you: how did you get into the Boogie Boys?

Well, Boogie Knight and I used to rap together on our block, where we lived in the projects, across the street from each other. I met him because I was sitting in one of the little bodegas on our block, and this lady came in and was like, "wow, you remind me of my son, the way you're sitting there thinking. I want to give you his number and I want you to give him a call, because you look like somebody he'd get along with." So, I called the number, we ended up speaking a couple of times, and we actually lost contact. And then about six, seven months later, I ended up going to school in Brooklyn and there were a couple of guys that were in a clique from Uptown. So we all used to ride the train together from Brooklyn back to Manhattan. And we became cool, and I'm talking to this guy and we started talking about hip-hop and blah blah blah and he asked me what project I came from and he was like, "you're the dude I talked to like six months ago! My moms gave me your number!" We actually met again. Through some ironic situation we wound up going to the same school and becoming friends anyway.

I actually had my own crew at that time and he had his own crew. Then he started coming over and asking if I wanted to do some stuff with him. He actually got his deal with Capitol, but he had done some records before he got down with them. The Boogie Boys' first record was "Rappin' Ain't No Thing," and that was with his old partner Keith, who also went to school with us. So, in the context of that situation, before they got signed to Capitol, I actually did a few shows with them as their DJ. We were kind of the only group doing shows at that time where everybody in the show could rap and DJ, so it was kinda special. So I did a couple shows with them at that time, but I wasn't on that first record that they did.

But, then, when he got the deal with Capitol Records, he was still in the Air Force at that time, so he brought me in to the studio to sing the hook on one of those records. And when I went in there to sing the hook, the producer was like, "yo, can you rap also?" And I was like, "well yeah, that's actually my forte." So I did a little rappin'…

Do you remember which record that was that he brought you in on?

Yeah, that was "Runnin' From Your Love." And I sung that hook and then Boogie and I started talking, and he brought in Lil' Rahiem, and it kinda flew from there. We wound up getting signed all to the same production company and we wound up on the album, and yeah… that's actually how I came in to the group situation.

But, like I said, Boogie was still in the Air Force during the time they released the album, and Capitol Records wasn't really aware of that. But they were like: you have to hit the road, the records are heatin' up. And we had to like keep the front up until he could get out without Capitol finding out that he wasn't able to tour. And so that's what we did. So doing the shows was ok, we were able to say, "Boogie Knight's not with us but he'll be back next time we come to your town."

But then we had to shoot the video for "You Ain't Fresh," and that's where the ugliness kinda came in. You know, I've seen an interview where people were saying, "they did the video and he was lip-syncing," like I wasn't really on the record. And I'm like, wow… that's pretty ugly. But we did what we thought we had to do, because the last thing I wanted was for him to come back out of the service, come home, and the deal was gone, he didn't have a deal anymore. Back then, we felt we were doing the right thing; but in hindsight, 20/20 vision, you know…

But you guys stuck together and kept doing records after that…

Yeah, yeah. After he got his release from the service, we began work on the second album. He was home, we were all together, in the videos and the magazines and everything, so he did get his recognition. But the problem, I guess, was that none of the records we did subsequently were as big as "Fly Girl." So he didn't get to see that impact that we had… although we had one record on the Survival of the Freshest that got a little buzz. So he did get to go on the road and see some pretty big situations… we toured with Cameo for a little while. But in the back of his mind he always had a little thing about the very first video.

So after that, he decided he didn't really want Lil' Rahiem in the group anymore. So the last album we did wound up just being he and I, Romeo Knight. And that was the last thing we recorded together, because there was still little relationship issues and he wound up just leaving the situation. I stayed with the production company, but I knew I wasn't going to try to record as Boogie Boys anymore. So then I got a solo deal, but that album never got to come out because they cleaned house there, and the A&R people that actually signed me got fired. So that project got dropped and that was like the end of that deal.

But during that time I also started a Latin Freestyle group called Sweet Sensation. I wrote their first hit, "Hooked On You;" and that blew up. Then I wound up doing like 70% of the album. And I was making money doing the Latin hip-hop thing for a minute. And also with that production company was a guy named Tony Terry - his biggest record was, "When I'm With You," this R&B ballad - had a couple of songs on his album. And the long and the short of it is that, after being with this production company for ten years, I found out they were robbing me for all of the publishing, 100% of the publishing. So yeah, they got me. I never really calculated it all, but somewhere in the area of a million dollars they robbed me. So, needless to say, my spirit was broken after that; because you work with these people for ten years, you think that they're your family, you know?

So, coming from the streets, I was battling the decision to handle it like street-wise, like go in the studio with guns like, "yo, you owe me money," or just let it go. And I wasn't gonna screw up my whole future doing something stupid, so I just ended up coming out of music. It was a crashing period for a couple of years, but then I decided to get back into it and do some production… Because I actually did all of the production for the songs that I wrote on the Sweet Sensation album. All of the production was me, but I got noproduction credit at all. Let alone the money. You know, even if I hadn't gotten paid, if I had gotten the production credit, that could've generated more work for me. "Hooked On You" was a pretty big record.

They're back together, as a matter of fact, working on a new album right now. They contacted me, but I'm not gonna be interested until we get the financial issues resolved from twenty years ago. You know? It's nothing with the group, I love the group to death. I love them, I'd do anything for the group. But they're fucking with the same management, so I really can't have anything to do with it.

And during that time, were you involved at all with the projects…? Like Boogie Knight had a solo album…

No, he just did his own thing. I think he might've done something not even in the United States… I think it was in Germany, because he actually wound up going back into the military; he reenlisted. He did do some music and he wound up doing an album there, but no. To answer the question, I wasn't involved in any of that.

Ok, because there was like a couple singles, and then the album. And the album is just credited to Boogie Knight, but a couple of the singles say The Boogie Boys.

Yeah, yeah… I don't know. I don't know what his situation was over there, if he was confused if he wanted to present it as The Boogie Boys or just him. But I saw a picture once of an album he put out with a whole group of people, like four or five different people… there was like a chick in the group, almost like it was a band or something.

No idea who any of those people are?

Nah, that was totally separate from my situation.

He does shout you guys out in the liner notes, though.


Yeah, on the album.

Wow… that's deep. I didn't even know about that. Wow. Around that time we didn't talk a whole lot. But we did talk after that; we were able to resolve our differences. In the end, we were friends.

We actually tried to do music and get together, after all the drama, all three of us - me, him and Lil' Rahiem. We did a couple tracks, but the blood was still… little emotional issues kept coming up. And it just wasn't worth it. Because my mindset is that I'm only doing music and hip-hop now because I enjoy it. If we get paid, we get paid. If we get some hits, we get some hits. But all the drama and the bickering over twenty year ago shit, I don't need to have around me. I was like, "let's just stay at peace with each other and stay cool. Obviously the music thing right now is not working, and let's try again in a couple years." But other than that, let's just be able to get together and enjoy each other's company. And at the end, that's what ended up happening. We weren't able to do any music together.

And are you still in touch with Lil' Rahiem?

Oh yeah, definitely. I hung out with Lil' Rahiem last week.

So, do you think there's any chance of you two working together anymore? Or is it still too caught up in the old drama?

Ummm… I don't know, man. I actually got a call from a guy from France who found me on the internet, I guess, and asked if I was interested in doing a show. And you know, I was like… you can't do a show as the Boogie Boys without Boogie Knight, because he's not here. But in retrospect, I was thinking maybe if I brought Lil' Rahiem on the road with me and do "Fly Girl" with he and I doing Boogie Knight's verses and have like, I don't know, a big screen shot of Boogie Knight and kinda pay homage to him. I'm thinking about that, but I haven't even talked to Rahiem about it yet. But the promoter was saying he was booking a show with Melle Mel and Sugarhill Gang, and just a whole old school tour type of thing, and I told him, you know, let me sleep on it…

Rahiem would probably be down, he's doing a lot of singing now. He's doing a gospel thing. So I'm trying to see about working with him, but not doing a gospel album, but doing a hip-hop album. But I'm not really looking to be in a group right now, like my hip-hop career right now is a solo thing.

To be continued immediately...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Back To Valentine's Day

I know it's long past, but we've got to turn the clocks back to this past Valentine's Day and return to my holiday post, "A Fila Fresh Valentine." Why? Because I've just come across a cassette version release of the "Fear Of the Rap" single that features another exclusive, unreleased Fila Fresh Crew song!

It's called "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody," and despite what you might gather from the title, it's not a precursor to Kid 'N' Play's final dance hit. It's much more in the veign of Toddy Tee's "This Beat Be Smooth" (and might even have you at the bus stop woppin' to Parliament). It's got a slow beat and bassline, cool out guitar sample, a little scratching and a silly drunken-style sung chorus handled by the guys themselves. But unlike the love song, its value isnt just kitsch novelty; it's a genuinely good song with a lost sound from a sadly too short West Coast era.

The lyrics mention Tito again (and if you note: the kick-ass cover photo features the four of them). They say, "don't forget about Tito; he's a part of the Fila Fresh Crew show." Just his luck to join the group just as it was breaking up. Doc T isn't present on this song either - it sounds like just Dr. Rock (or Tito; I don't know - they sound alike) and Fresh K handling the raps on this one.

Dr. Rock gets full production credit for all three songs, but interestingly the writing credits are a bit different on the cassingle than on the 12", saying, "Written by Dr. Rock, S. Thomas, Fresh K. & B. Edwards, except 'Fear of the Rap' written by Dr. Rock." So apparently Dr. Rock still wrote all of The DOC's lyrics for the lead track, but now a couple extra writers are credited for "I Wanna Know What Love Is" and this new cut.

Oh and yes, by the way: this version of "I Wanna Know What Love Is" is also the "Hug Mixx" (albeit this time spelled with two x's). So there's still only the one version. Perhaps there's an unreleased version that used more of the Foreigner record which they couldn't clear?

Anyway, now there's onemore song for you Fila Fresh fans to track down and add to your collections... Instrumentals for all three songs are on the B-side. Oh, and sorry for the delay since my last post... I'm working on a big interview that I'll be posting in seperate parts any day now. Plus I got a bad cold. 'Till next time: <3

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ridin' the Underground Railroad with Big Nous

So, ok, silly rap has its place. But I think I've done enough Tricky Nikki and Fila Fresh love songs for a little while... it's time to just do a post about something dope. Something recent, something hardcore, non-commercial, and something almost all of you have probably slept on.

This is the new single from Big Nous. Well, I say "new," but I guess technically it first surfaced in 2006. But considering its utter lack of promotion or distribution, most people are still only just now finding out about it for the first time. Catacombz carried it for a little while - that's where I got mine - but they had problems getting copies themselves. It took me about 6-7 months to get my copy, with the owner of the company eventually mailing me his personal copy (thanks! I finally got it!). So, yeah. It's pretty underground.

So, yes, this is the same Big Nous from The Hobo Junction. Apparently he's moved to Mount Vernon, NY now (look up Heavy D for us!), but he still represents the Junction and his style hasn't changed... a bit. Honestly, this sounds like it could have been lifted directly from the original Hobo Junction EP from '95. Production, voice, flow... it's all here: classic Big Nous. It only took 11-13 years.

And while this is dubbed a "maxi-single" on the cover, I'd have to say this is at least an EP. The cover lists 7 tracks, but there's actually twelve. First, you've got the main track, "The Outcome," in four versions (street, radio, instrumental and accapella). It's kinda short, essentially two brief verses over a slow rolling, deep track with a couple sample layers. It's pretty serious in tone and subject matter, with Big Nous telling a moral warning of a narrative about the effects of street violence:

"Seein' niggas her man didn't get along with,
Sayin' to herself, 'this shit is far from over.'
It's devastating.
Working hard but hard to unwind;
A single parent with murder on her mind.
Watching her sibling up close but from a distance,
Too young to feel the stress
Of this crab-in-a-barrel ghetto existence;
Allowing him to do what he feel,
Even though shit is real...
In the killing fields.
When will this vicious cycle end?"

Next up, you've got two more tracks, "Warnin Shots" and "Devils." Again, if you heard any Big Nous tracks in Hobo Junction's heyday, you know how this sounds. If anything, he's perfected this style a bit more, sounding more natural in his voice and flow. The tracks here are all slow, with distorted horns, really deep bass notes, banging drums a lot of snare and strange samples (birds chirping, race car engines passing by) mixed into the track.

Most of the tracks are pretty short, though "Warnin Shots" lets the beat ride for so long, it's almost like you've got the instrumental version right after the full version on the same track... sort of like MC Lyte's "Paper Thin," but without the ad libs.

Track seven on the cover is said to be "Mount Vernon," but I don't think it is. Tracks seven and eight are two instrumental songs that feature extended vocal samples (scenes from a movie, I guess, but I don't know what it is... the accents sound African). Then track nine is actually a fast-paced track with Big Nous freestyling, just showing skills.

Finally, on track ten, I believe we've got "Mount Vernon." At least that's what he's rapping about on this song... it's cool. Maybe slightly more east coast sounding, but just barely. Although, really... I don't know if any of this sounds particularly west coast-ish. I think it's just that it's Big Nous's style, and since the west is where he and any artists he produced for were from, he just personally defined it as being a west coast sound.

Track eleven is another, back to his normal pace, freestyle song. This one feels written, essentially battle rhymes that twists into a metaphor of a gun runner for a bit in the middle, "Take more than 600/ men to get with me/ in the zone/ kill or be killed/ unarmed men/ prone to hard labor/ waitin' on a savior/ one man holding down a village/ with fully loaded weapons/ making sure everything honky dory/ under control/ up on you since birth/ goals: to wipe the war monger off the face of the Earth." Well, it's tempting to just go on and on typing out his lyrics, but yeah. You can see it's the partly advanced, partly hardcore, partly trippy, partly abstract kind of flow we'd definitely dub "next level" back in the 90's.

Finally, the last track is an outro, with Big Nous doing some shout-outs and talking over another of his beats. He tells us to check out his album, all new cuts, called The Illness, due out in June (I guess he means of '07). It hasn't come out yet, but hopefully it's still on its way. "It'll be in all the black-owned stores, the barber shops. I don't need to get signed," he says. Hopefully it's still coming. On his myspace (you knew that was coming, didn't you?) it says the album's coming in December, along with another album of instrumentals called Music to Study to Volume One: Winter Solstice ...though he apparently hasn't logged into it since Nov 6th. You can hear one track off The Illness album, one instrumental off Winter Solstice, and two off this single, including the title track and "Warnin Shots" (though here it's titled "Speak the Truth (Revisited)"). Finally, he has another myspace page here, but that seems to be just a rough precursor, redirecting you to his other one.

Anyway, find this single if you can - it's worth it for sure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

References ≠ Impressive Songwriting

Ok, guys. Just a mini-post again (been a while since I've done one of these), just to point out that we - meaning the hip-hop audience, critics, fans, etc - need to seriously stop being impressed when a rapper references something "intellectual." Just name-dropping something like an 70's film, classic novel or outdated pop culture reference does not make a song any more profound, substantive, witty, clever, or anything else worthwhile.

Now, don't get me wrong. A reference in a song CAN be witty, smart etc... Like, umm... MC Paul Barman doing a sex rhyme and saying, "my pissed off jimbrowski turned three colors like Krystoff Kieslowski"* is funny. It's smart. It's a punny, five syllable rhyme you wish you could've thought of. Ras Kass's take on Francis Crest Welsing's The Isis Paper, despite reaching some questionably racist conclusions, was an impressively thoughtful, literate lesson of a song. Ok, see? I'm being positive and constructive. Instead of just jumping right into the complaint, I'm pointing out examples of how it can be done well.

Unfortunately, it's hardly ever done anywhere near that well... and for some reason fans and critics don't seem to distinguish. Look. Here's a line from the Beastie Boys' overhyped Ill Communication, "Well, it's The Taking of Pelham, One, Two, Three. If you want a doodoo rhyme, then come see me." What's The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three? Don't get me wrong. I know it's a movie. I've seen the movie. And the content of the film has no remote connection to the content of their rhymes. It's just one of a million random titles they drop in to increase their "hip quotient." The only really good thing about the line is that there's three Beastie Boys, so one of them can say the "one," one of them can say the "two" and the last one can say the "three."

AesopROCK and MF Doom are darlings of those kinda critics... look at the song they did together, The hook goes, "Far as I know we've been blacklist for as long as the Earth rotate on a 23 degree axis." Like one of them just ran up to the other and said, "I just randomly opened an encyclopedia and read that the Earth rotates on a 23 degree axis! How can we work that fact into a rhyme and appear smart?" And the other one goes, "work... into? Just say it. I'm pretty sure we're not getting paid for logical cohesion here." And then they liked it so much they made it their hook.

But if you read reviews, even by supposedly intelligent and discerning critics, they just can't seem to stop heaping praise on the Beastie Boys and every other rapper when they do this (not dissing the Beasties, mind you... they've made some great records. But let's not pretend that they're this generation's Irving Berlin). Reviews can't wait to excitedly point out, "lyrical references include Judge Wapner, Sylvia Plath and Homer’s ‘The Illiad!'" Like, wow, he must be so smart to know who those people are! Everyone from Killarmy to Nas to billions of obscure rappers on CDBaby get these raves over and over. As if just googling a bunch of titles and phrases and dropping them randomly into your raps is some kind of intellectual accomplishment. How about saying something about the dead political activist, or enhancing a point you're making by pointing out parallels between your ideas and the great poem's, instead of just trying to prove that you've apparently heard of them once... at some point.

Here's a good shorthand tip: if the reference to a book (or whatever) in your song doesn't suggest that you've ever actually read the book, or have any idea what it's about, you're not impressing anyone.

...Well, except a lot of people. And if you are one of those people, I think it's time to put on your Analytical Hats and ask yourselves a question. Do these lyrics you're jumping up and down while blogging about actually contain anything more than you could've thrown together yourself in twenty seconds by playing pin-the-tail in your highschool library?

And, wait. I'm not done. There's a new fad blowing up in hip-hop right now that's essentially the same thing. Album covers and press photos patterned after obscure films. Gnarls Barkley made themselves look like the guys from Clockwork Orange? Oooh, isn't that clever. And Camobear Records! They made their new DVD look like... Clockwork Orange, too. Eminem did a semi-famous Clockwork Orange photo (why semi-famous? because people were impressed that he referenced Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Clockwork Orange!), and of course Cage used Clockwork Orange artwork for an early mixtape with "Agent Orange" on it and probably some other stuff.

Right now, rappers are doing it all over the place. Tragedy makes his cover look like The Matrix. Copyright makes his cover look like The Jerk. DITC make their cover like Dead Presidents, J-Zone copies The Graduate and Guru takes the Back To the Future artwork. Little Brother makes their cover like an old EPMD cover. Sid Roams makes their cover look like the same EPMD cover. Yeah. It's been going on for a couple years and just keeps getting worse. Check out on any given day (yeah, they're still up, apparently)... it's like a gallery of ever-changing ripped off images from recent pop culture. Next summer, when the Hollywood blockbusters roll out, let's see which rappers are the first to use their logos and images for their shitty mixtapes.

It's up to us to stop encouraging them. There's no reason to be impressed.

*Interestingly, a line The Pedestrian once quoted to me as an example of a reason why he disliked Barman... different strokes, I guess.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Return of Tricky Nikki

Following up my recent post on the rare Tricky Nikki/ L'Trimm 12", is this... the follow-up (and final) single from Tricki Nikki. Looking at the title and the year (1990) should probably tell you what this record is - an answer to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This."

This is the promo version, by the way. The only difference between the promo version and the retail is that the promo label is black and white and the retail comes in the Time-X's standard orange on yellow.

The beat for this song uses the same "Superfreak" sample as the Hammer joint, of course, but it cuts the bassline a little bit differently, and doesn't use the male chorus vocal sample ("oh ohh-oh"). It adds some new elements, though, from a Rick James vocal sample ("Super freaky!") to, most notably, a great sax solo!

Tricky Nikki has essentially the same voice, flow and attitude as her previous single, though she sounds (slightly) less like Tigra or Bunny D. Nikki's got the right spirit for this upbeat answer record... she's not dissing Hammer, just playfully teasing him ("Stop! ....Tricky rhyme.") and constantly pointing out that it's summer break between verses. She even gets lyric specific with her variation, with Hammer's fast-rap take on his own name towards the end of the song goes from this:

"I'm known around the world,
From London to LA.
It's Hammer,
Go Hammer,
MC Hammer,
Yo Hammer,
...And the rest can go and play."

to this:

"I'm one fly girl,
And I mean what I say.
I'm tricky, yeah,
Tricky Nikki,
Nikki Tricky,
...Now let my record play."

If you pick up the CD single instead of the 12"...

(Despite what it says on the cover there, I really doubt this CD plays at 45 rpm.) get a unique b-side song, "Jammed In the USA" by Girls With Attitudes. Time-X also released this as a separate single on vinyl. It's an answer to The 2 Live Crew's "Banned In the USA," and I believe it's the only song they've ever put out. Which is fine, because they're not all that great.

Unlike the 2 Live Crew, they don't use the signature Springsteen sample... they actually take their chorus from Cyndi Lauper ("Girls, we wanna have fuh-un; you know that girls just wanna have fun"). The beat's ok, hitting pretty hard and fairly layered with different elements, though you'll surely feel embarrassed for them when they play the national anthem on keyboard at the end. They have more than their share of contrived rhymes, and their style of rhyming in unison is kinda lame. Lyrically, it's essentially supporting the 2 Live Crew version, talking about their rights to be x-rated (which they claim to be, but they don't curse at all on this, their only song):

"Freedom of expression,
That's what we perceive.
Free to do what we do,
That's what we're lead to believe.
Then comes another,
Tells us we're wrong.
Tells us what we can and can't say
In our hip-hop song."

In closing, I have to say... the neatest thing about writing an informative hip-hop blog like this is that it still helps me learn stuff for myself. Check out the comments section for my A-B-C, 1-2-3 post for a really informative reply about the history of Tricky Nikki and how she met L'Trimm. I didn't know any of that. 8) Cheers, everybody, 'till next time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Fila Fresh Valentine

It's Valentine's Day, and what better way to get into the spirit of the holiday than to dig out on of hip-hop's corniest token love songs ever? Usually token love songs were album fillers, but The Fila Fresh Crew decided to make "I Wanna Know What Love Is" a 12" exclusive. Maybe they felt it didn't really fit into the atmosphere they were making on the rest of Tuffest Man Alive.

The R&B hook (sung by one male and one female vocalist) is taken right from the chorus of Foreigner's classic 80's song, "I Want To Know What Love Is." If you're a pure hip-hop fan like myself, who's really not familiar with all the mainstream pop stuff, and you want to hear this song for reference, just hang out for a few minutes in your dentist's waiting room. That's where I heard it to know they were aping a famous song; then I just had to look up who it was by on wikipedia. ;) Anyway, yeah... so the title and chorus are lifted from Foreigner, but the basic instrumental, with it's single-note-ber-beat xylophone like keyboard and the MCs' semi-spoken word delivery (there's even a little spoken intro) is 100% ripping off LL Cool J's "I Need Love."

It's interesting to note that the second verse is by someone calling himself, "Tito, the youngest of the crew." I don't know who he is, I guess someone they brought in to take the place of The D.O.C. who apparently decided to sit out of this one ...which they should've taken as a bad sign. But, anyway, Dr. Rock and Fresh K each provide two romantic verses each, for a total of five. Let me share a little of the love:

"I've been through many women like books in a library.
To live without love, girl... is kinda scary.
I'm the doctor of the turntable, girl, you know it's true.
No matter how I try, I can't find a girl like you.
Love is like a game that's played by foolish men;
I play this game over and over but never win.
I'm looking for a love, girl, that's blue and true;
And if you're out there, girl, this song's for you."

And, girl, here's one more for you, girl:

"Girl, you're the new attraction... in my life;
Sometimes I fantasize... that you're my wife.
But then I pinch myself, 'cause I know I'm just dreamin'.
You're like a drug, girl, and I keep fiendin'.
See, to be truthful, I feel real bad;
'Cause I was too glad to know the love I had.
Feelin' heartburn, I was cryin' and ballin',
Knowin' your love was like London bridges fallin'."

Note that this is the "Hug Mix." Apart from the instrumental, there are no other mixes of this song released anywhere... I think the Fila Fresh Crew just decided that you needed a hug. :)

This is the b-side to a very un-Valentinesy song, The D.O.C. solo track (although, interestingly, the only writing credit on this one goes to Dr. Rock. Hmm...), "Fear Of the Rap." It's actually pretty hot... there are some cheesy (even for its time but especially today) "scary" keyboards that will turn away heads who insist on taking their rap music too seriously; but they're still pretty effective once the beat - which is kickin' - and The D.O.C. get rolling. It's a real showcase of the fierce lyricist who'd go on to record No One Can Do It Better - essentially him just rhyming like crazy, occassionally pausing to let the DJ scratch a little for the break. In fact it opens with Doc-T (as he was known at the time) doing the first half of his verse accapella over just a soulclap. Then there's a hornstab and the beat kicks in while he keeps flowing. At the end, the DJ cuts up Whistle's signature whistle sound, and there's some live guitar - the Crew definitely put in the time to try and get this song right.

This is the only 12" exclusive from the Fila Fresh Crew, except for a couple remixes off their post D.O.C. album, Taking Charge, as The Fela Fresh Crew. So relax, pour yourself a drink, put this 12" on your turntable, and have a happy Valentine's Day... unless you actually have a signficant other, who'd then probably insist that you "turn that silly crap off." But, hey, it beats being alone, right? <3

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

(Werner Necro'd) Mista Tung Twista - Interview

I did this interview with Twista (along with the Speed Knot Mobstas) just as he was emerging into the mainstream in '98... He surprised a lot of people with his verse on Do Or Die's first single, and was finally getting a real push from a major label after years of struggling to prove himself as being more than a novelty rapper who had a flash in LOUD Records' pan. He was suddenly getting major media airplay and was also coming out with a new crew (though, if you paid attention, they were also featured on his indie album from '95)...

How did you hook up with the Speed Knot Mobstas?

Twista: The way we hooked up was like some battle stuff. Lif tried to come at a brother... they tried to pull me over in the car. You know, battle me. Basically, we was on some competitive stuff how we met. It turned out, we ended up making a crew back in the days, called the Speed Knots, and we just been together ever since. Just battles, trying to do little stuff, having meetings every week, stuff like that...coming with rhymes. Over the years, it just got to this point.

So, you kinda went away. You started to surface with Ressurection, but then you disappeared again. Now you've made another comeback with the Do Or Die guys. How'd you hook up with them? What's the story behind it?

Twista: Well, actually, Do Or Die, Crucial Conflict, and a few of the groups that are out from the west side of Chicago… we all knew each other before we were rappers. So, one day, on a normal day, I was just kickin' it with Do Or Die. I was in a store called The Flea Market up Madison and Chicago on the west side, we was talkin about doin' a few cuts. And one of the cuts we were talkin' about "Po' Pimp." And we didn't know it, but when we went to the studio and made it, it turned out to be very, very prosperous.

When you first came out, you had a really different style. Not just flow-wise, but lyric-wise, being all about some hip-hop and peace. And now you're on the Mobstability-tip. What do you say to suggestion that it kind of makes you sound like a "studio gangster?"

Twista: Really, what it is, is like, back then, you be kinda lost. Coming from a place like Chicago... not a lot of industry people around, not a lot of people to learn from. You kinda lost. And when you read the magazines and stuff, you be like, "Dag, this is how the rappers livin'. This is how they kickin' it." And you don't realize that sometimes you end up kickin' rhymes that's pertaining to stuff from that persons hood. You might be listening to LL or Run, but the way they rap, or how they kickin' it, would be an east coast thing. And, what it is, after a period of time, Chicago artists just found there selves and realized it ain't about soundin' like this person or this person. We gotta do our own thing. So, in doin' our own thing... Man, in Chicago, you got gang-bangers, you got drug dealers, you got players... Like I say wild shit, hard-times, player cuts, and murder rhymes. Stuff that we on.

So, what's up... I know on your new record you've got a joint coming out at Bone. What's up with the beef between y'all?

Twista: The Bone beef. It's like, basically, to me it was just a little hatin' goin' on. I guess brothers felt like their style was being bit by certain artists from Chicago and stuff like that. And they said a few things on their single, and then came out with the album which said a few things. And, basically, me as an MC, I did just took care of my business. I ain't really dwelling on it, but everybody got a chunk of 'em. Crucial did they thing, Do Or Die did they thing, and I did my thing. Hopefully, it'll just stay on wax.

I think most people really remember more the beef with Naughty By Nature and your record "Suicide." But, listening to it, you were also talking about the Beanuts right? "Intoxicated Demons?"

Twista: Yeah. It was just a little hip-hop thing, back then. I think back then you had a few cats who wasn't ready for the Chicago scene to blow up a little bit, I guess. There was a little dissin' goin' on back then. It was just some hip-hop stuff. I kicked it with Treach today. That was just in all of our younger days. But now, everybody's tryin' to unify and work with each other, stuff like that. It ain't about none of that, 'cause we done lost a few good rappers over stuff like that. So we just tryin' to make sure they keep it on the positive level a little bit.

Earlier, when you did the Resurrection album, that was basically independent… Did you put that out entirely by yourselves?

Twista: Yeah, the Resurrection thing was independent. It was just what we wanted to do after the album that dropped on LOUD records. it was cool, it was cool. We was hurtin' though, back then.

So were you happy with what came out on LOUD Records? Or did you think it was just not really true to who you were?

Twista: I mean, I just chalked it up to experience. We was young back then. I was young, I ain't know nothin'... too much. All I knew was I had a little flow. I just took it as experience. Once we got in the game a little bit, you know. Took it as experience, and went on with the next. Now we on some Mobstability thing.

Mayz: We got Danny Boy on now. We got Shock the World on now, with the Legendary Traxster. So, y'all go get that album 'cause it's the bomb, ya heard?

You're already getting a lot of play from the single now off the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack...

Twista: Right. That was basically an Atlantic hook-up, you know. We was fortunate to get on a soundtrack like that. We sold a lot of units to a lot of people who didn't or might not know about us. So, when they got that soundtrack, hopefully they checked out that cut and it was something that made them feel like it was something that made them want to go get the album.

And, also, a lot of people probably also remember you from that Puff Daddy cameo.

Twista: Yeah, that got us a lot of east recognition.

So how did that happen? Did Puff call you or something?

Twista: He basically wanted to work with me. There was a small circle of artists who wanted to work with me because they liked the verse I did on the "Po' Pimp" song, so I was fortunate enough to get that call from him. Bam, I wanted to put that down, 'cause I knew that was gonna be hot.

And so lately you've been doing a lot of that - appearances on a lot of other peoples' records. You've been on like Ras Kass...

Twista: Yeah, Ras Kass. Ras Kass was like a hook-up of Wendy Day's. Wendy Day had a rap coalition. And me and Ras Kass were like two of her favorite rappers. And she just basically wanted to see us get on a joint together, so we did that.

And you were on Usher, I think it was?

Twista: Yeah, Usher. Usher liked me. He said I was one of the MCs he liked. He just wanted me to jump out on the remix of "Nice and Slow". Like, MJG... I did a couple underground things. A few nice, new people.

Anybody you haven't worked with yet, that you want to do a song with?

Twista: Redman. I like Redman a lot. He needs to jump out; gotta jump out.

Cool. And you've got another solo album comin' out now, right?

Twista: Yup. Right now it's titled Kamikaze. But I ain't even started working on it yet, 'cause, right now, we on this Mobstability thang.

So now a lot of people are gonna be familiar with you, but not the other two members of Speed Knot. How would each of you describe each other's styles for the people just discovering you guys?

Mayz: Ay-ight. I would describe probably Lif. Like, Lif he just the street nigga, the nigga that you gonna run into everyday on the street. The one that's just gonna give it to ya in the raw. And just tell you the real. And if you don't like it, so what? And how he's comin' atcha, it's comin' atcha everytime.

Liffy: With Twista's style, he brought us to a point where... When we first met him, we was just kinda like wild out there. We couldn't count bars or do nothin'. We was just writing rhymes. And he showed us how to break it down into songs. You know, 16 bars, 4-bar hooks and stuff like that we wasn't used to. But, by him bein' in the business, and him knowin' how to lay it down, he just showed us the way. And it was all good.

Twista: Lemme see... Mayz style. He'll bust out on you a couple of times. Mayz might sit back and listen to what me and Lif doing and what he feel like, the cuts don't have, he'll sit up and put his part to like, "Man, they need a little bit of this, or they forgot to talk about this. And cut it tighter on this, so I gotta make sure I do this." So Mayz, on this cut he might do this, on this cut he might say, "Let me come raw," On this cut he might put things into perspective. That's Mayz. He'll put a little swirl on it... A little swirl.

Ok, so going back to the early days… didn't you battle Daddy Freddy for like a 'Fastest Rapper,' title? Weren't you officially considered the fastest rapper of all time?

Twista: Yeah, it was like... I don't even hardly remember, that was so long ago. It was cool. We just battled on stage one time, at a DJ Quik concert. And I got my p's cause we was in Chicago. And the Guinness book thing was he had a little record and I beat his by a few syllables so I got my props from that, too.

Are you still the fastest now?

Twista: Yeah, I'm still fast. I don't know if I'm the fastest. I'm not really dwellin' on the fastest no more; I'm trying to be the largest.

So what's up with you dropping the Tung from your name? It's just Twista now. What's the significance behind that?

Twista: It wasn't really a reason. You know how sometime a person can have, like, a long name? You just call that person the shorter version. People just got tired of saying Tung Twista and just started saying Twista. "What's up, Twista?" It wasn't really a thought-about change, it's just how things came out.

What are your feelings about the Chicago scene in hip-hop? I mean, a lot of people took a long time to blow up, like EC Illa, Juice, and all that.

Twista: Yeah, it took a while. You got different elements when it comes to rap music in Chicago. Up north... You got the heads up north. And in the south, you got the mixture. They might like a little bit of the gangsta stuff, or a little bit of the east coast vibe. And on the west side of Chicago, where we're from, we just don't give up with it. We just puttin' it down like we feel it should be put down for the Chi. That's why we doin' it.

Alright, cool. So you got any last words you wanna say for people reading this?

Twista: Man... I want y'all to check out the Mobstability album comin' out October sixth, because it's raw. We're puttin' it down for the Chi. We feel like it's a new thing that we're comin' with. It's basically raw. I did my thing, and I want people to check the album for Liffy and Mayz because they raw. After this, hopefully, we gonna break off into some solo and expand from there and expand from there. Check us out, 'cause we all the way live. ...Any last words?

Mayz: Mobstability.

Liffy: I'd like to thank you for havin' us. Go get that album, October sixth.

So, that was about ten years ago (wow!) now. Twista is still very much doing his thing... After looking like he'd be a sorely underrated rapper lost beneath the industry, he really found deserved success (go ahead, you rap like him. See? You can't! Ha!) with a long stretch on Atlantic. Yeah, he's put out some flat-out bad, commercial cuts, playing the industry game a la Jay-Z; but he's undisputably talented. Anyway, he's back on the indie tip again, starting his own label with some new music, so go check him out again: is his site, and there's a pretty glossy fan site at both of those are good but out of date The latest info and new music is, as always, on his myspace. And yes, he's still down with the Mobstaz, who all have myspaces linked in his Top Friends.

Tags: , ,

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A-B-C, 1-2-3

Hey, guys! If you haven't seen it already, drop by's blog… there's an interview with me up there! So, yeah, I hope you guys enjoy that… then come back here when you're done, because I've got another 12" write-up for ya tonight:

"Yo Jeff, what's shakin'?"
"Coolin'; what's up?"
"Come pick me up!"

Like the "As We Go" quote suggests, I'm not done with the girlie rap just yet. Today's record is the answer to that age-old question, "what do you get for the L'Trimm fan who has everything?" Tricky Nikki's obscure "Bust the Rhythm of My ABC's" 12", featuring L'Trimm, from 1989.

The first thing you'll notice and the first thing I've got to mention is that Tricky Nikki sounds exactly like Lady Tigra, and if there's any detectable difference at all, it's that she might sound slightly more Bunny D-ish. Honestly, I wouldn't be all that surprised if it was discovered that "Tricky Nikki" was really just some kind of alias (though I don't believe that's in fact the case). At any rate, with L'Trimm actually present and providing the chorus and the backing vocals, this is practically indistinguishable from a genuine, lost L'Trimm record. It's on their old label and is produced by The Fly Boys, using a fast-paced classic style Miami beat, except without much of a bassline… it's got a lot of repeated vocal samples and adlibs by Bunny and Tigra, and features a several simple keyboard refrains, including one that plays a note for each syllable of the chorus:

I wish that you could be with me.
1-2-3; can't you see -
What a
[something mumbled each time they say it] has done to me?
Why don't you come play with me?
A-B-C, 1-2-3…
Bust the rhythm of my ABC's!"

The rhyme's a simplistic narrative about a guy with a bad rep who Tricky Nikki decides to give a shot anyway: "So we danced and romanced for a little while. He wanted to make love, but that's not my style. I said, 'not now; maybe later. They call me Tricky Nikki and there is none greater.'" That's pretty much the whole story, really. It's a quick vignette in three verses that doesn't quite get to any larger point beyond, "they call me Tricky Nikki and there is none greater." …Which is perfect for this kind of song. There's some basic scratching on the breakdowns and even a goofy human beatbox solo towards the end.

Then the b-side features a street mix… It's hard to imagine a song like this really appealing to "street" audiences no matter what they did to it. But this version does successfully strip away a lot of the keyboards (most notably the note-for-note bit mentioned during the chorus) and some samples, for a more raw, harder edge. Still, I think all those people who'd rather not hear the chintzy keyboards are the same ones who'd pass on this record regardless; so anyone who'd want this rare Tricky Nikki/ L'Trimm collaboration will probably prefer the original.

You might have a hard time locating a copy of this bad boy today, but if you want it bad enough, I have faith you'll be be able to track one down for cheap. 8)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tiger Toys and Bunny Boys

Here's a 12" I bet none of you guys reading this have… and it's not rare or expensive, so if you decide you want it after reading this, it's easily had. Can't ask for more than that, can you?

This is the title, first and only single off L'Trimm's second album, Drop That Bottom. They talked in interviews about wanting to make "Trouble In the House" their second single, but their label never wound up putting out another single off this album, instead jumping straight to Groovy.

"In the city late at night -
Cause that's where he rocks 'em -
He's funky fly,
'Cause all the girls jock 'im.
He gives 'em a smile,
And, yeah, he's got 'em.
'Cause girls love to see him...
Drop that bottom!"

It's a pretty hype beat (there's a reason this was the title track), with a cool variety of samples. How much you like the song will depend entirely on how much you can tolerate L'Trimm - for many of you, that may be not at all. But those of you still around will probably rank this just below "Cars That Go Boom" as a favorite. It's also one of the first examples I can think of (open challenge: name an earlier one) of a female artist turning the tables on their audience and making an entire song objectifying men as sex objects (calling them "Tiger toys" and "Bunny boys" respectively), but in a cheerfully inoffensive party record way.

Now, check wikipedia for a minute (or don't and just take my word for it… save yourself some time). They credit jungle music as having birthed "circa 1993." Well, this is a jungle remix (by The Fly Boys) from 1991 - L'Trimm is fucking cutting edge, I'm telling you! And it is a jungle remix: the 150+ bpm drums and sample loops… it's not just called "Jungle Remix" because it features a sample of The Jungle Brothers or something. Personally, I don't really care for drum 'n' bass or jungle music, but this is reasonably well done.

The bass remix, also by The Fly Boys, is similar to the album version but strips off a few bits of instrumental and, of course, adds that car vibrating bottom drop. Being a bit more hardcore, I could see it being some peoples' favorite mix, but personally I like and miss the pseudo-cutting on the hook of the original version too much.

Finally, for those of you who just can't bring yourselves to listen to anything so anti-macho as a L'Trimm song (they do literally giggle at their own delivery at one point in the song), there is an instrumental version of the LP mix.

As to where they are now, I have some good (or terrible, depending how harshly you judge them) news: Lady Tigra is back with a new solo album called Please Mr. Boombox (so far only available as mp3 on places like ITunes, I believe). Visit her myspace page to check it out. For a few months, she had a website at:, too; but it seems she's already abandoned it. There's also a fan-made myspace page for the group that shamelessly uses my discography and all of my scans but gives me no credit - give 'em a shout. ;)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Sah-B That Never Was

So I can't end my Sah-B coverage without finishing the tale in my usual, definitive (critics could probably come up with another term for it) style. In my last post, I talked about the flagship 12" of her return, "The Freestyle," and how it seemed designed to hype up a comeback that never followed.

When she was still a teen in the late 80's, she started out in a crew called The Revolutionary Posse of Terrace, which included other NJ heavy-hitters Redman and The Lords of the Underground. And of course, it was her attention grabbing debut on Lords Of the Underground's posse cut (with fellow up-and-comer De'1) "Flow On" that we all still really know her for today - it didn't hurt that an already really hot track was later given a smooth Pete Rock remix when LOTUG put it out as their sixth(!) single. They all followed that up with another impressive posse cut, "Da Underground Sound," which was put on the B-side to De'1's debut single; and she did one more guest spot on LOTUG's second album. Off the strength of those, she became one of the first (though not the first) female MCs to land a major label record deal and released a really nice single (especially the b-side!) on Reprise Records in 1994. Unfortunately, the label then lost interest in her (possibly as a backlash, since she was known for her almost shrill, hardcore but witty lyrics and rapid-fire staccato flows, and her debut single was a blatant stab at crossover mainstream pop rap, a la The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), and her promised album Some Ol' Sah-B Shit never surfaced.

Here's my first good scoop: I asked then-producer K-Def if her or De'1's albums were ever finished… if original, unreleased recordings might be tucked away in an A&R's closet or a promo cassette sitting on some music journalist's desk. He answered, "I'm not sure either album was completed. I do know is I did a few more songs for De'1 that was on the album supposedly. I'm pretty sure Marley has it locked in the" Thanks for getting back to me, K!

So, that was it from Sah-B for a couple of years. Either tied up in label politics, or just not interested in dealing with the uphill battle, she didn't come out with anything until 1997, when she returned to the scene with some less than thrilling, mainstream R&B remix singles (I'm sorry, but I don't think *any* MC could get me excited about an Uncle Sam remix). But she also came out on the independent tip, appearing on Systahood's "M.O. Money" single (already blogged about here). Then in 1998 came her own, aforementioned "The Freestyle" 12" and the 3 Minute Blunts EP with The Andre Johnson Project, which was really just several different remixes of a song called "Why We Swing." In 1999, she did a couple more appearances. By 1999, it seemed like it was almost all over already… when Lords Of the Underground made their (first) underground comeback album, she was featured on the track: "Hennessey: Pt 2" (it was just okay, but then... everything on that album was just okay). And I didn't discover it until a few years later, but she did do one more guest appearance: it was an independent 12" on Cipher Records (backed by the infamous Echo International) with a group called Blackwatuz, who as far as I know, never put out anything else. It's an ok song (the b-side, which doesn't feature Sah-B, is better), but she only contributes the hook - no verses.

And, unfortunately, that's all she ever put out (to date). But here's the second good scoop of this entry: I have a demo CD of material she didn't put out on Born Hustlers Ent.

It's untitled and consists of four tracks, and two of them are the-b-sides to "The Freestyle" 12": "Tonight" and "Let Me Know." But the other two tracks are all new (unreleased).

The first new song is "Nobody," produced by someone named Vega (he's also listed in the contact information on that Blackwatuz 12", so that's the connection there). It's got fast, kind of bouncy/ kind of hard track with a lot of cuts and a repeating horn loop that's very catchy, if a bit cheesy. As with "The Freestyle" 12", nothing is up to her classic "Some Ol Sah-B Shit," and what's really surprising is that this is the same hook The Outsidaz used for the song called "Nobody" on their demo, and which was slated to appear on Pace Won's unreleased Pace Won Effect album, right down to the scratching... the only difference is it's Sah saying the hook instead of Pace and Zee! I gotta say the Outz version (especially the grittier demo version, before they polished and slowed it down for Pace's album) is the hands down winner - it's an unreleased Jersey classic. But the track is indeed addictive, Sah comes with some nice freestyle rhymes, and it's a good hook even if you did hear it before (we'll probably never know who came up with it first).

The other track is "Born Hustler," also produced by Vega. It's slower, with a cool 70's ambiance. It's got a bit of a more mainstream vibe… but if it does, it sounds like it'd be one of the few good tracks on a crappy mainstream rapper's album… if you take my meaning. Like the title suggests, Sah-B explains the hustle behind her label name:

"Born hustler,
Stay sweet like sugar
Who's the nicest?
Well, pick me like a booger.
Know why?
'Cause I'm gon' live and die for hip-hop
I seen crews flip-flop
Until they drip drop.
On the tic-toc, ya don't stop
Love me tender
It's time to surrender
I'm rocking this here down
So remember
See more dirt than Huffy
Know more Bad Boys than Puffy
Dudes find it hard to trust me
Know why?
Because they stay stagnated
And constantly, my thoughts stay elevated
So they think I'm slickin' them
Straight gettin' them
But my shoes ain't fittin' them
Or they average ho
I coulda got you for your dough
Long time ago
But now I'm doin' me
'cause only through the Earth
Is a real man able to find his true self worth
See, I was born to see
Born to teach
Born to be
Born to speak
Born to be
A born hustler."

But holy cow - I'm still not done! Here comes the third good scoop of this post:

'Cause a little after all the Born Hustlers stuff faded, I was contacted by her management. I'd already written about her for The Source, and they were putting me on to another comeback she was mounting. In fact, I was even gonna do her website… I got as far as designing the front page for'em. They sent me a 1-track CD single to review on my site. It never wound up getting released except they gave me a mailing address that people could mail order 'em from that I put up in my forums. That was 2001, so even though the threads still there, I wouldn't send 'em any money and expect to hear back.

The CD single is titled "Whut That Be About" and don't feel too bad about missing it if you weren't reading my site in '01 (though it's just one more example of why you should always be checking my site! Haha) unless you're a real fan. It's kinda disappointing. If the Born Hustlers phase was a step down from the Reprise phase, then this is a step down from the Born Hustlers phase. I said in my previous post, "Sah-B sounds a little more subdued (I guess she'd say "mature") on this record, which is definitely to her detriment," and she's gone further in that direction on this release. Gone is the energetic, Milk Dee voiced, rough punchline spitting MC we were all dying to get an LP from. And in her place, we've got a dull, slow, generic female rapper who sounds like she 's been listening to too much Eve, post-45-King Latifah, Da Brat, and so on.

Don't get me wrong; it's not terrible. The track, again produced by Vega, is fun - it's got a weird string sample emulating a buzzing bee playing throughout and a cool horn sting every so often. The lyrics still have the edge of an intelligent writer, though as you might gather from the title, the hook's annoying as.

Through everything, you can always see the talent running underneath each of her endeavors. But like just about all rappers and groups making comebacks, you can't help but pine for what they'd've accomplished if they just went for theirs and did their own thing instead of trying to fit in with whoever was featured in last month's Vibe.