Saturday, January 24, 2009

Who's Singin' This? Total Control Interview

I recently had a chance to speak in depth with Chas Bronxson, formerly known as Prince Charles of Total Control. If you don't remember Total Control, they were a mad talented group with killer raps and harmonies who were down with Chuck Chillout in the late 80's-early 90's. Unfortunately, they never got to drop an album, but they still made a lasting impression on NY hip-hop doing shows and especially on the radio. Finally, their story is told... and personally I've gotten answers to questions I've been carrying around in my head since I was a freshman in high school. I'm not gonna tell you anymore, because it's all below:

So to begin, break down the group and tell us how it all started.

Total Control is a group that came together when we were teenagers. We'd always go, do our little demos and what-not. We'd go to the studios and spend our hard-earned money… The original group was me and a guy named Masterpeace. That's the light-skinned dude with the flattop in the picture. It was just me and him; and one day we decided we were gonna do a promo. We were listening to the promo and we heard Chuck Chillout, and we said, ayight, we're gonna do a promo for him and we're gonna take it down to him. So we went in the studio and he did all of the rapping and I did all of the singing. And so we put it together, we took it down to Chuck and he instantly liked it. He used to play it to open up his show.

And what year would this have been?

This is December '88, I remember that. And the next thing you know, my cousin came up; and that's the other guy n the picture. Divine. So that was our unit right there; we used to sing and harmonize like The Force MD's - that's who we patterned ourselves after.

Then, one day, Chuck got a record deal; and he decided that he was gonna put all of his groups on there. And we were featured on that album. Did you get to hear that version I sent you? I don't know how well you know that song now, but if you listen to both you'll notice there's a difference between how we did that verse on the original.

Well, the singing's definitely different at the end.

Right, right. That's the way it was supposed to be. And also there's a variation of the music. If you notice, when Sherm finishes his verse, he goes, "we're from Edenwald, and we're rolling with Bronxwood Productions." That's the way it was supposed to flow, right into that. But they told us after that session, "yo, Chuck said that y'all were dominatin' too much in the song. He wants you to change it." And we went back in and we had to change the chord of the harmony we were singin' to some low pitch. Ah man, dude; I'm telling you I hated that! And the producer, to match what we were doing, he lowered the octaves when he was playin' the keys, and it just didn't sound right. And then, on the song, after Sherm's verse he goes, "we're from Edenwald and we're rollin' with" and you don't hear no singing. It just drops out. Chuck comes on talking about, "yeah, this is Chuck Chillout. You heard Deuces Wild," and I'm like, yo, what are you doing man? So I just walked away from the project; I wasn't proud of that at all. 'Cause how it was supposed to go, "we're from Edenwald and we're rolling with Bronxwood Productions," singing, and then he could talk on top of that. You could even bury our vocals in the mix at that point. But Chuck had something else in mind and personally, I don't think it worked.

It still kinda works, though. Like I agree the rough version sounds better, but it was still a great song.

John, I'm telling you that song could be better! 'Cause all it would've took was for us to sit down and map it out. But there was no organization with that song; everybody just did their verse. But it could have been executed so much better.

And after that - this is the impression I always had as a listener - with you guys featured on "Bronxwood Productions," was it sort of understood that he was gonna be producing records from you guys?

Yeah, and that's how it was gonna be. That was exactly the plan. Because he had this guy: Boy White. He's the producer I was talkin' about; he did the production for everything. And we were looking forward to doing some music with him. I mean, we had our own songs; but we didn't have the studio savvy that Boy White did. So Boy White was gonna be the one to put us out there with the music. And we even did about three or four songs with Boy White. And these songs, Chuck Chillout was going around shopping, trying to get us a deal. And what I remember him telling us is that he went to Andre Harrell to try to get us a deal, and supposedly he wanted the song that we did that Chuck was playing for him, but he didn't want the group. We had this remix of one of the songs we did called "Young Love," where we were singing to "Impeach the President." Chuck went in there asking for this crazy amount of money for the group and Andrea was like, "nah." So that deal never jumped off.

Do you know what he wanted that song for? Like was it a soundtrack, or why did he only want one song?

I don't know. I really can't call it, 'cause I wasn't there at the meeting. So, once we got word of it, we were like, damn. Did Chuck blow this deal for us? What was going on there? And then Chuck got his deal, and they had an album release party; and Chuck was just nervous. He was all over the place. And it got to a point where we were like, yo, he's not really paying attention to us. And we felt like he was more into what he was doing with Kool Chip. So, a little bit after, when Chuck was into his own thing, we said, well let's go and try to find out what happened with that deal at Uptown/MCA. So we set up an appointment to go and meet with the A&R at Uptown to find out what happened. So we went down; they gave us like a 4 or 5 o'clock appointment; and we met this dude who turned out to be Puff Daddy. So we're in his office and we play that song for him and ask whatever happened. And he's like, oh yeah yeah, that's that song.

And we had this other song where we did a remake of this old song by Chaka Khan, called "Tell Me Something Good." And Boy White had sampled that and we rapped over it; and we used to go around and perform it. And you know, we were winning shows at Town Hall and everything; we were building a little name for ourselves. And I'll never forget, after the little meeting was over, we were getting ready to walk out and this dude comes in and Puffy goes, yeah, this is an artist, he's getting ready to come out. And he used that same song we had sampled, "Tell Me Something Good." He was like, Total Control, this is Father MC. And dude was like, "oh, Total Control! What's up?" You know, like he knew us! And we were like, yo, who is this kid, man? And sure enough when that album dropped, they had "Tell Me Something Good" on there. And that was one of the songs, in addition to "Young Love," that was shopped at MCA.

So, once they heard the demo…

Well, I'll tell you - I can't call it. I'd like to think that. It's almost obvious to me, but if you weren't there, you can't really call it. Because whenever you use a sample, there's no telling who else is gonna use it. Anybody can have that idea. So there's no telling what happened with that. I can't really say they got us on it.

Did they use it pretty much the same way, though? Like, was it chopped the same?

It had similar elements; it definitely had similar elements. Because, when it comes to a sample, it's not even the way you chop it up; it's just the sample. Once somebody else gets that sample, people hear it and are like, "oh man, look at what they sampled." So if somebody else comes behind, they're like, "ah, they're biting. They're trying to be like what was already out." So we were just thinking: man, the way Father MC responded to us… did he see us performing somewhere and get the idea to use it and take it to a producer? Anything could've happened.

And so many times that happened, man. I know there was one time we really had our song lifted. It was a song we did with Boy White, and they shopped it… and Chubb Rock came out with a song. And, I'm telling you, man… word for word. Or, the sample. The sample. See, you can't really blame it on the rapper. A lot of times a rapper will come in and his producer will have a track; the rapper don't even necessarily know where the producer got the idea from, but if the track is tight, he's like, "oh shit, I wanna rap over that!" And he'll make something to it.

Do you remember which Chubb Rock song it is?

It's a song called (sings) "She's with someone, someone, someone"[see my Chubb Rock discgraphy page; it's on his second album]... And I'm telling you, we had this song that we shopped and we were like, "let's tell these people who we are. We are (singing) Total, Total, Total… Total Control." And we were singing over this Brothers Johnson called "Strawberry Letter 23." Man, I'm telling you. You hear this song and you'll hear exactly what I'm talkin' about. It's just too ironic. I'm going on record saying they lifted that from us. They definitely got that from us, man!

And that "Young Love" song I was telling you about. I remember when Puffy was listening to it, he was like, "yo man; I remember Andre definitely wanted this." And next thing you know… I don't wanna sound like I'm sayin' everybody's stealing and everybody got everything from us; but there's just certain things, when they happen, that make you think to yourself, "damn, man. Did they get us?" Because then Jodeci came out, and they had "Come and Talk To Me" and "Forever My Lady"… And Devante's an excellent producer; I'm taking nothing away from him. But they had a remix for "Come and Talk To Me" where all they were singing over was "Impeach the President." And Puffy's name was listed as a producer on that. We were like, "yo, did Puff get us, man?" Did he get us? But that stuff happens.

And anyway, the deal with MCA fell through; nothing happened with that, and by that time, Masterpeace… we had a falling out. He left the group. And so we got somebody else, who was more singing oriented. But we continued doin' shows, and you know, we was buildin' up the name. And I remember we did a show at this club called The Castle. And the owner of the club was like, I want you to meet Red Alert. And Red Alert had come down to see the show that we did, and we tore the place down, man. And they said, well we want you to do a promo for Red Alert the same way you did for Chuck; and we were kinda skeptical about that, because at that time, Chuck and Red didn't get along. I mean, they were really like enemies, and we didn't realize that until one day we were down there at the radio station with Chuck, and we were getting' ready to leave and the elevator came up. The doors opened and when we got ready to get on the elevator, Red Alert was on the elevator. And Chuck was like, "nah, nah. Don't get on." And it was thick. The tension was thick and we was like, damn - they don't get along like that?

And Chuck was pretty much acting as your manager back then?

Well, it was never really official. It was just that he was a DJ and he was gonna put us on. And we were told he was shoppin' a deal for us, but he didn't make nothin' happen. And it got to the point where we felt maybe he's just not interested or just focusing on what he's doing. So when this opportunity came for us to do this promo for Red Alert, we were like, yo man - should we do it? Shouldn't we do it? Let's just do it.

At that time did you know it was gonna be for the album, or just the show?

Nah, nah, nah. At that time, it was just gonna be for the show. And the promo, it did real well. And we found out that Chuck, according to Boy White, when he heard it on the radio, he flipped. He was like, "yo, they flippin; on me! They flippin' on me!" And it wasn't even a thing where we were trying to flip on 'im. 'Cause we wanted to be a part of Bronxwood Productions, we wanted to make it pop. But it just seemed like he didn't really have no plans for us. And when we did the promo for Red, we just looked at it as we were doin' a promo. We weren't trying to get down with Red or nothing like that; we just did the promo. And it took off.

And I can't forget to mention my brother. The first part was me rappin', and then the second verse, that's my brother Brandon. At the time, he was going by The Mac. We just featured him on that promo. But that's family. He just happened to be in that situation when Masterpeace had left. And we needed someone to write that hip-hop, because me and my cousin were focused on the R&B. That's what made us strong. Masterpeace would do the hip-hop and we would sing and put it together. Masterpeace would sing with us also, but he was like a background singer; and vice versa. We'd do some raps, but he was like the front rapper. So when he left, it was like what are we gonna do? And my brother just stepped up like crazy. He wrote my verse and his verse, and we were like, god damn, where'd you get these skills from? It just shocked us; so we brought him in the studio with us; and that's what you hear now.

So he was never really a member of the group, he was just on that song?

Yeah, he was just on that particular one. He's a producer now, and although he's nice with the pen he prefers to just produce hip hop tracks. He's currently producing a rapper named Illa Ghee. Illa Ghee is known for his fire verse on Mobb Deep's 2004 hit "Hold You Down" featuring Nina Sky. Illa Ghee & my brother went to school together, and they've been tight for years.

But that thing took off and became real popular. And the next thing you know, Mitch - who was the owner of The Castle - said, "yo. Red Alert is comin' out with an album, and he wants to include this on his album." So we was like, i-ight, cool. And it came out on his album, and I remember I tried to set up an appointment to get a deal with Next Plateau [Red's label then]. 'Cause I was doin' a lot of hustlin' back then, man. I would go and try to get an interview going or get an appointment… just, you know, try to play our demo and get a deal. That's how it was back then. And we had something set up with Eddie Oh, I think his name was, at Next Plateau Records. And I remember thinkin': let me try to really solidify this thing and make this appointment worth it. And I knew that Red Alert had affiliations there. I remember I called Red and said, yo Red, this is Charles from Total Control and I'm just calling to ask if you could put in a good word for us over at Next Plateau. Just put in a good word for us. And he was like, "well, what's in it for me?" And I was like, "huh?" He said, "what's in it for me? 'Cause I'm not just gonna have y'all usin' me to get a record deal," and I was just whoa. I didn't know what to say. I was dumbfounded, man. So that didn't pop off. He didn't put in no kinda word for us or nothin'. And you would think that after we did this spot for him and as popular as it was, you would go, "well, yeah." 'Cause all it was was for him to say these guys are comin' in; give 'em a shot. It's not like I was askin' him to come in the studio with us or into the office to make it happen. But I wound up going in there with no representation and Red didn't put in a word for us or nothin'; and nothing happened with that.

We got stuck just doing these promos. I did one for Bugsy, Wendy Williams - a little mixtape thing with Wendy Williams - Angie Martinez, the Wake Up Club with Ed, Lisa and Dre. It became just monotonous. I was like, yo we're more than this, man. We've got more to offer, and it comes to a point where you're just not gonna do any more promos. At some point, you've gotta move beyond where you're at, otherwise you're gonna get stuck.

Yeah, those Red Alert tapes had incredible promos. On the later tapes, they were better than the songs.

(Laughs) Yeah, I've heard people say that. I remember meeting Queen Latifah and telling her about the group, how we did a promo for Red Alert and she knew about it. Oh, you did that? That was hot! People knew about it; but it's like The Twilight Zone. Friends used to joke, "when's the album coming out? You keep doing all those promos, we're gonna change your name from Total Control to Total Commercial." And we understood, we were trying to get it out there. And so, after a while, the guys just got frustrated, man; and it all just dissembled. And that's pretty much the story of Total Control.

Well, what about...? I know you came out with a record after that: "Keepin' Me On the Line."

Oh yeah. Well, that was some years later. That was around '95. We put our little money together and we did a video for it and got it playin' on like a lot of college shows. So, yeah; we was still doin' it, but as far as like the DJ's and all that - it was over at that point.

And I see you produced it… did you do the remix, too? The label doesn't really specify.

Yeah, that was me. I taught myself to produce music so I could be able to do what Boy White used to do. The rap was done by my cousin, and I did the writing on it and the singing vocals. Then there's another remix that I did that's not on there. If I remember right, that wasn't done until like two months after we put that 12" together. It's pretty much the same song, but it doesn't have the rapping on it. The parts where there would be rap, it's got some singing on it.

And that label: 4-Ever Flowin', was that just you guys yourselves, or was there an owner and all?

That was just us. Actually, about a year ago, I called the boys over and we did a couple songs. The chemistry is still there, man. When we get in the studio and do stuff, it's like magic. Kelvin - he's the guy who did the Red promo with us - he got behind the keyboards and started playin' something, and then words come to me like quick. And like two days later, I have them come back and I wrote the whole song, and put the musical arrangements around the keyboards that Kelvin had played. And the song is nice, man. But they don't have that kinda stamina. There's so much to this game, you've gotta have endurance; and they don't really have that. But if ever something pops off, and I get to do a project, I'ma have them come in and we'll do a couple songs together.

Are you guys still doing the same kinda thing? I mean, I know times have changed, but as far as combining hip-hop with the R&B?

Yeah, exactly. Yes. We got this one song where it's R&B and hip-hop together, and another one where it's just straight singin'.

And do you still have those old demo tracks?

Yeah. Those tracks from the late 80's, early 90's? Yeah. And the promos, like the first ones we did for Chuck Chillout. And I turned some of those into full-fledged songs, man. 'Cause I didn't want the ideas to go to waste.

But I'll tell you what… about the stuff I was sayin' before. I got nothin' against Red, man; and I got nothin' against Chuck. As a matter of fact, I saw Chuck like two months ago and everything is cool. That stuff is part of your past and you learn from it and you move on.

Was there ever a tour for the Chuck Chillout album or anything?

Nah, that never happened. The last thing that I remember happened was Chuck had this album release party at The Tunnel. And after that everything pretty much disbanded because Chuck was doing his thing. And I don't know if you know, but Funkmaster Flex came from that whole outfit.

Yeah, he was on the same song as you, right?

Yeah, he was with the group Deuces Wild. He was the DJ for that group. All of us came out from the Chuck Chillout umbrella, and Flex is the one that blew up. And one of the guys, Derrick, was known as Nine who went solo later. He was the lead rapper in Deuces Wild.

They were pretty much the only ones from that song that Chuck actually did put out a record with.

Yeah, yeah. Well, see, I don't know if Chuck really knew how to deal with us, man. Because we had that singing element. And I guess that's one of the reasons why Sherman, Masterpeace, felt like he'd be better off going by himself. Because that was his main thing, rapping. And he was fire. Listen to that verse he did on the Chuck Chillout album, man; it was ridiculous. Dude was just nice with it. And when we would go out singin', the harmony would just be so right; and that was my strength. But I don't think Chuck really knew how to deal with a R&B situation.

I guess maybe it was a weird time, after like Force MDs and Whistle were like making a decision to go full R&B…

Well, I would actually say that it was a good time. It was a real good time, 'cause that was when you had Guy coming out. Al B Sure and everybody adding that hip-hop element in their music. So it was right there for us. It just didn't gel.

And did Masterpeace ever come out with anything when he went solo?

Nah, nothing ever came out. I don't know what he did. When he left, he left hard. I haven't seen him since… you're talking about 1990, man. I haven't seen this dude. But, you know, I'm hearin' that he's alright. I hope everything's fine with him.

Was there issues between you guys, or was it just the situation?

Well, you know, we had some argument, man. We was gettin' ready to do this show. Like I was telling you, we were always going around and doing different shows and concerts. We were in this contest called The All-Star Talent Show, and we won the semi-finals. And we got in some argument when we were rehearsing. And he just bowed out, a week or so before we went to the finals. And we were just devastated. We were like, what're we gonna do now? We got this show comin' up at Town Hall of all places, and dude just bounced out. And we had to go and get somebody who really just couldn't cut it, man. He was a good singer, actually; but he couldn't rap for nothin'. So we got the guy to fill in for him, and I was upset with Sherm for a while for that, man.

But then, as time goes on, man… I found out this business has a way of breaking up friendships, and driving a wedge between people who were close. I grew up with that kid, man. You're talkin' about 9, 10 years old. And it wasn't until we got into this music thing that we just like fell apart. And it's a messed up thing, but that's just the way it is. You know, wherever he's at, I hope he's doing fine. I wouldn't even mind seein' him, man, and talkin'. Whatever we were beefin' about before? It's nothin'. We had an argument over a rehearsal, man. Over a rehearsal. Friends for over ten years to have something like that to happen. And like with Chuck; everything's cool now. Years later, all that promo beef… it's meaningless; everybody's moved on. It's just too bad we couldn't see it like that when it was all happening. 'Cause we was just a group trying to get out.

Have you ever gotten back in contact with Boy White?

Nah. You know, I think I talked to Boy White sometime around 2000. 'Cause I had some questions to ask him about contracts. 'Cause I had won this song writing contest, and they were offering me a publishing deal. So I was like, let me get in contact with Boy White, because I know he knows this stuff in and out. And we spoke for about an hour, and he gave me his numbers and everything; but I think he moved out. And when I spoke to Chuck a few months ago, I asked if he'd seen him and he hadn't heard from him either. Cool dude.

And how about the others from "Bronxwood Productions," like No Self Control?

Chuck told me that a couple of dudes died. I was like damn, because I hadn't talked to anybody in like years. So we were just talking, like a whole half hour, goin' over all the people we knew from this died. This one died, this one got locked up. And Nine moved down South and he's out of touch with everybody; nobody has heard from him.

So, let's get into your current stuff...

Well, the video that you saw on my site… I had done a lot of promotion and got it on a lot of underground shows across the country. But the subject matter kept me from getting on radio. Not because the listeners didn't want it, but because the female program directors really had a hard time with it. One time, I remember at a popular radio station here in New York, I had a meeting with a programming director and she was like, well, I don't want to play this because I'm afraid it's going to offend our female listeners from the ages of 25-54. Those were her words.

Really? 'Cause that song seemed pretty positive.

Well, I remember, I did the show Street Soldiers with Lisa Evers on Hot 97. She had me on that show regarding that song and video, and I remember the first thing she said, "and Charles Bronxson, who I have some issues with. I saw the video and I gotta ask you about this later on." And then the question that she asked, she said she thought the video was nice, but there was a certain lyric that stood out to her. She said, that the woman would do things that made Daddy want to hit her.

So I had to explain to her what I meant by that. Because if you listen to the lyric… in the song, the father is explaining to his daughter why he wasn't there, trying to rekindle his relationship with his daughter. So the lyric actually said, "she picked fights every night and started arguments for nothin'. She wasn't like she was at the start. She used to say and do things to make daddy wanna hit her, so stayin' wouldn't've been too smart." So he's saying he left before it came to hittin' her. But all these programming directors heard was daddy wants to hit her; that's all they heard. So that caused a conflict, but I mean, I got a lot of love from women. Like the viewers? I got e-mails like incredible. So even if the song didn't get the rotation, the e-mails made me feel like the project was worth it.

So, that project went pretty well for one guy doing it all himself. I covered a lot of ground with that. A lot of radio shows, Michael Bivens featured on his show with it. And the next project will be the same, but it's a little more friendly for the women. And ultimately, it may be a compilation of songs like an album; but I'm doing all of this so I can get that shot as a writer. Because that's what I love doing. I've got songs I could never do and cover all of them with just me as an artist; the volume is just too much.

So is most of what you're writing now R&B?

Well, you know what's ironic is that the video I'm about to do is rappin'. Just like the last one. 'Cause even though my focus is R&B right now, I can write the Hell out of some rhymes. And I guess that was part of it with the group. 'Cause I was doing the writing and I'm looking at whole vision… and also the publishing. But when they're just singing, they're not seeing that stuff. In fact, Source magazine had done a little expose on a song writing contest that I was a part of [click right to enlarge and read the full article], and I had won. And they gave me some money, some studio equipment, and they offered me a deal. And, you know, I had to turn it down. Because they wanted all the publishing.

On the phone, they would say we'll split the publishing with you. I asked them and they said yeah… But when the contract came in the mail, it didn't reflect what we talked about on the phone. So I thought maybe they just want me to take it to my lawyer and be smart enough to get it changed around to be identical to what we discussed. And I took it back to EMI and they kept putting off signing it. But they kept trying to give me $5,000 to sign over the song. They wanted more of a one night stand; I wanted a marriage. They told me, "yeah, well, Puff Daddy had the same kinda deal!" Like, you must think I'm some kinda new jack. They kept pushing that $5,000, man. And I was broken hearted. Because I thought I was gonna get a deal, like this is my shot! But I had to be strong enough to walk away. Because I learned that a long time ago: you never let go of that publishing.

Do you remember Johnny Kemp? I remember I saw him in Harlem around 1991 or so… I saw him walking down the street, and I was like, "oh shit - Johnny Kemp!" So I went up to him and I'm like, you're Johnny Kemp, right? And he nodded his head yeah. And I'm like, I love your music; when's your next album coming out? How come it's been so long? Because "Just Got Paid" had come out two or three years before that and I hadn't heard anything from him after that. So I was like, yeah man, when's your next album coming out? And he's like, "I don't want to talk about it." You know, he had like this accent, "I don't want to talk about it." And I said nah, man, I'm not some writer or magazine or something like that; I'm just a fan, curious about what happened. And he said, "I don't want to talk about it" like stern faced. And I was like whoa, alright, and started backing up; I left it at that. I'll never forget that little encounter, man. I just wonder what happened to this dude to make him like that.

But I promise you, you're gonna see somethin'. And you're gonna hear something from Total Control. Because even though we're not a group, we're still boys. Once my stuff pops, I'm gonna incorporate something we did. That's a promise.

You can check Chas Bronxson out online at his website, And his CD single of "Let Daddy Explain," with both the rap and R&B versions and the video, is available at CDBaby. He also has a myspace, which you might wanna bookmark since he says he's planning to start building on that including possibly putting up those vintage, unreleased Total Control songs(!).


  1. nice! i had forgotten about those guys.

    ps: his myspace link is messed up.

  2. Dope read for sure....Remembered the name, but didn't hear any of their music until the past few years

  3. Please don't forget about Dj Sinbad aka Stitch from the T-connection.