Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Partnered In Kryme: Keymaster Snow Interview

Last December I managed to find and interview GV, the MC of Partners In Kryme, the group best known for their hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, "Turtle Power" (read that interview here). Well, just the other day I was able to finally get the other half of the story, and talk with his partner, DJ/musician/producer Keymaster Snow.

In my GV interview, he talks about how he discovered you DJing at Syracuse University. So, how did you get into hip-hop and DJing back before that point?

Well, I was always into more traditionally black music all through high school and everything; that was just the music that I gravitated to. When we had parties or whatever, I was always the one who picked the music… not necessarily a DJ, but I played the records and that kinda thing. So when I got to University, I fell in with a lot of DJ crews from New York. There's a lot of people from New York City at Syracuse University, basically. So I fell in with these guys because I owned a lot of records, and I started learning DJing from them. Real DJing. And I just picked it up as I went.

Well, let me ask you this, then: GV talked about being impressed by your skills as a DJ, but there's no scratching on any of your records… at least the ones we got to hear.

Exactly! The ones you got to hear. It was part of the direction we were leaning in following our first record. We were following the more pop sound at the time.

Was that your thinking, or did that come from SBK?

It was a combination. If you listen to what would have been our first album, there's scratching on some of the songs. Some of them had much more than others. You know, we tried to bring it along slowly. Once that first single had gone out, and it was so pop, we tried to be smart about developing an audience and that kind of thing and bring them along slowly to more the kind of thing we wanted to do.

But also back then, even real hip-hop artists didn't have so much scratching back then. That was something that started developing later. DJing for most people, unless they were real heavy B-boys, they couldn't take it when you started scratching heavy! They had to learn. So it wasn't until sort of the late 80's that started taking off.

Also, when we started doing our records, I brought more of my musical background, including playing keyboards, putting all of the beats together and that kinda stuff. I was concentrating more on that.

And did you used to DJ under a different name, then? Because "Keymaster" wouldn't've made a lot of sense for that…

It was really just Master Snow; that was always the thing. And then it became Mixmaster Snow when I was DJing more. Then finally Keymaster Snow when I was doing all the music for Partners In Kryme.

And how about the name: Partners In Kryme? When did you come up with that? And was that quote on the back of your single, "Keep Rhythm Your Motivating Energy" always the idea behind the name, or was that a backronym?

Right. We just came up with the name Partners In Crime and we didn't want to spell it like that. Although, when we very first started, that's probably how we spelled it. But almost immediately, we changed it to that. And only after, Rich came up with the whole acronym thing. It just fit the letters.

So tell me about the "Hefty" 12".

Yeah, that was up in Syracuse still, and we went to a guy who was starting a label there. I guess everybody was starting a label then. So this was the guy who owned one of the big records stores in Syracuse… there was only like two stores in Syracuse where you could buy hip-hop records, and this was one of them. So we got to know him because we used to go and buy records there. So we were just like why don't we come up with something? And "Hefty" was something we came up with because that was the huge commercial out there at the time, from what was it? Glad Bags? So we sorta based it off of that. And it was, you know… it came out awful. Because of the pressing, the recording… we didn't have money to buy much equipment back then. We were just artists starting out, so we didn't have the money for real recording and studio time. And it was a studio that had no experience producing hip-hop stuff at all. We were trying to make it sound a certain way, and you know, it wasn't great. It was one of those things that didn't really come out, but it was something we did. I don't even have a copy of it for myself.

Are you happy with the song itself? Like, would you say if it wasn't for the mastering and the recording conditions, you'd like it?

It's really incredibly dated. It was along the lines - because it came out at the same time - of Doug E Fresh's "The Show." It really doesn't hold up now.

Along the lines of "The Show" to the point where you guys were doing crazy voices and things?

No. No, not that part. Just the style of the beat… not that it was a copy of it or anything. But it was just that style, that sound. At the time, it was all about making your beats as huge as possible, if you remember. And the drums were just gigantic, and Phil Collins was a big thing. So it was alright, but definitely out first effort!

So, ok, now moving forward to when you signed with SBK… what were your feelings towards them?

Well, it was interesting. Rich got a job with WBLS and made some connections there, which is what got our music heard by SBK. And they were interested in working with us, and we were tired of going back and forth; but they wanted to sign us with a development deal. I don't even know if they do development deals anymore. But at the time, it was a thing where they'd sign you and give you a little bit of money. Nothing much, a couple of thousand. And if you came up with anything, they would own it. And if not, they hadn't really put any money into you. That's what a lot of labels were doing at that point. And we didn't really wanna do that; we wanted to be signed for real, you know?

And while we were going back and forth on that, the Turtles thing came up. And really where this came from is that they had on their album an MC Hammer cut. And that was supposed to be the single. What happened is, when they made the deal to put that on the record, they were sister labels with Capital, who had Hammer. So they had the deal for that single; but by the time it was about to come out, Hammer had blown up huge! He wasn't that big yet when they made the deal, and he blew up really, really huge. So Capital said, hey, we're selling a lot of Hammer records; you can't put this out as a single. Because that'll hurt our sales. They could still have it on the album, but they couldn't put it out as a single. So now they're scrambling.

They immediately said, ok, we'll put out… there was a Ya Kid K song on there as well, you remember, from Technotronic. So they put that out as the first single, and it went nowhere. Technotronic had some big hits, but there was a controversy going on with them because they said that model was their lead rapper. And it turned out, no, it was this other girl, who kinda looked like a boy; not really someone you could set your group around. So that really put the brakes on Technotronic.

So they absolutely knew they needed a single. And again, at the time, soundtracks were huge. Now it's not a big thing anymore; but at the time to have a soundtrack to put out there was a really big deal.

Right. You'd even have half-assed movies that only existed to support a soundtrack album.

Exactly! Remember Above the Rim and all sorts of them where you can't even remember the movies for, but the soundtracks were huge. So they really wanted something and they had actually talked to us earlier about it, before they were really after the single. So we wound up doing the whole thing over the weekend. We came back on Monday, gave it to them, and the label, the movie people, they all loved it.

How much of the music was you guys, then, and how much was Shane Faber responsible for?

We did all the music; that was always us. Shane came… we made the record, everything was in a big hurry. All the deals were made, all the stuff was done, the soundtrack was getting ready to be pressed. So they needed this song super fast. So we recorded the song with all of our equipment. And we were just starting out; nobody had given us any money for new equipment or anything like that. So I didn't have the best equipment in the world, and the drums and everything were very basic sounding. But if you listen to the one that's on the album - the soundtrack album version - that's the version that we put together.

Then, a couple weeks later we got back in the studio with Shane and he had redone the drums with the new equipment. He was pretty much just copying what was there. He redid the bassline…

Well, the keyboards are definitely different.

Yeah. It's all there on the version that's on the album. You just can't hear them as well as you can on the new version, because the older equipment didn't sound as good. He may've also added some additional sound effects.

So, on the Single Edit, did you replay everything, or did you just remix what you had?

Oh yeah, we replayed everything. We had everything on sequencers, so we just ran better sounding equipment on the sequencers. So, the keyboards, the drums… some of the drums. In fact, one of my pet peeves about the song in general - and still, to this day, it's a little hard for me to hear - is if you listen to the original, the drums are straight up swing with 3/4s on the hi-hat. Or maybe 6/8s, I forget; I haven't been in the music business for a while. Anyway, much more of a swing drum sound.

When we were putting together the song, one of the things we looked at - not stolen, or even sampled - but we asked ourselves what's big right now that's a big movie hit? And at the time it was Bobby Brown's song from Ghostbusters 2, "On Our Own." And the drums… I didn't copy the pattern exactly, but I tried to get that swing feel. So it's almost exactly the same tempo and it's got that swing feel to the drums. Now when Shane came in to do the drums on the single version; the hi-hat isn't quite there. I don't know exactly how he did it, but they don't match up. Technically, it has much better drum sounds, but it doesn't have the same feel as my version, and doesn't really groove as well.

Was it your idea, then, that they included the album version on the 12"s (and CD singles)?

Did they really? No, I didn't know that. We had no say in how they put that out. The record didn't care about trying to grow the band or anything like that. In fact, when they put the song on the album, we hadn't even signed our record deal yet. And I was kind of lobbying for us being real hard asses about it, and getting all the concessions that we wanted out of it. But our manager and our lawyer said no, don't do that; it'll piss them off and they won't get behind you or whatever. But how many times do you have a single going out on a record and you haven't signed a deal yet? It seemed to me that we were in a really nice position; but they said no. So we went along and signed the deal with pretty much what they wanted, and we didn't get much of what we wanted. I mean, it was ok for a first deal. But in the end, I guess it wouldn't've helped or hurt one way or another.

Going back, could there have been three versions of "Turtle Power?" Because, comparing the two versions on the single, the keyboards are decidedly different.

Well, no, I don't think so. The elements were all there on both versions… just lamer keyboards or whatever. Our version was less pop. But except for the new percussion, like, I'm sure there were no other music lines or anything that weren't on the original.

And then I assume they didn't give you guys much say on the packaging of the single or anything…

Oh, god no! It got to the point where we were going to shoot the video, and they told us there were going to be guys in turtle suits, a bunch of kids, stuff like that. And when we got there, the guy doing the video didn't even know there were two people in the group. He thought it was just Rich, because all he heard on the record was just Rich. So all of his shots - and you'll notice that I'm just barely, barely in there, and we had to fight for that! - but all his shots were just set up for Rich; that was all he had.

So we had no input on anything like that. And, this is the best part… when we asked if we could have any input on the video or whatever, they told us no, because the movie company was paying for it. So we have to just do what the movie company wants because they're paying for it. But it turns out, the movie company didn't pay for it; it came out of our royalties! And that's what most record companies did at the time - they'd put the money up front and then take it our of the artist's royalties. But the big thing was always, "no, you can't have any input because we're not doing it. The movie company's doing it!" And then they charged us for it.

So we were there, under the Washington Bridge, freezing at 20 below. Although I was in the trailer most of the time, so I never got too cold. But, you know, I wanted to be there for Rich. So you keep a positive outlook, hope the labels do right by you; and generally they never do. Every once in a while they come through; but they were just interested - as all the record companies are - in making money for themselves, especially at the time. That was really the time that record companies started turning. Before that, you know, they would be a little more interested in trying to develop artists and that kinda stuff. But that was the point where it switched, and video became the thing, and performing and what people looked like, and it didn't matter if somebody had talent or not. Then it just became straight up product, and people like Vanilla Ice came in. And it was about how he looked, how he danced, and the music wasn't anything. And sort of "Turtle Power," too! You know, it's a pop song; and that's all it was. We were hoping it would help our careers along the way and get where we wanted to go, but it never lead to anything.

Well, it did lead to a follow-up single; "Undercover."

Yeah… Boy, that was straight down the path we didn't wanna go! It was another one of those tings where we fought it and fought it, and everybody said, go along with this… everyone seems to really want this, and then you can do the stuff that you guys want, and all these promises.

But when we signed with SBK we also signed a publishing deal with EMI. That was one of the things we held strong on. They wanted to sign the publishing, too; but we created a publishing company and did a co-publishing deal with them, which turned out to be very good. Because that's really where you get any kind of money. You never made money off of record sales, but if you wrote your own music and owned the publishing or part of the publishing, you had a much better deal. So we ended up doing ok. EMI ended up getting 25% of the total publishing, and we got 75%.

They asked us what we wanted to do for our next single and we had something, but they weren't knocked out by it. They were like, ok, it can be on the album, but it can't be the next single. So we were like, ok, we'll go back and work.

Anyway, Charles Koppleman, the K in SBK Records, an old music guy from way back in the 50's, wanted us to do this other song. The big thing at the time was that the Dick Tracy movie was coming out. And they didn't own the rights to the soundtrack, but still everybody thought it was going to be huge. It was action, it was comic book-y, it had these big actors: Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. Of course, not we know it wasn't anything.; but not at the time. And Koppleman wanted to ride on the coattails of it. So they wanted us to do this detective song, and he said, you guys are perfect for it, because you'd done one song to fit the mold before, and now you can do it again.

So we tried to make the song a little more… we tried to give the music a little more of the funk stuff and what we wanted to do. And we based the sample of that one off of Eddie Kendricks' "Keep On Truckin'." And sound-wise, it was originally more of a straight-out hip-hop song, but again they told us it needed to be much more pop, so we put in some more stuff. The horn line that's in there, very consciously, we tried to do something similar to the horn line that's in "Turtle Power." So it was much more pop, and from a lyrical standpoint it was very pop; and they loved it.

There's some records I'll go back and listen to and some that I won't. And "Undercover" is definitely one that I won't. Because I don't think it's representative of what we were doing. I mean, I think the sound is pretty good… it's ok for a pop - a really pop sounding record. I like the girl singing on there, I like the samples. But I really can't listen to it.

They said, this is perfect. And then the movie came out and did nothing and the single of course did nothing. And the cover, that was another terrible shoot.

Didn't it match the video?

Yeah, it matched the video. That was another thing that cost us an arm and a leg. They shot it in black and white, and we wanted to shoot part of it in color. But they said no, that was too expensive. But nobody was doing hip-hop videos in black and white in those days. It just wasn't done. But it was what it was. Shooting in black and white was always a problem for us, anyway. Rich is very dark-skinned, and I'm very light-skinned; and I can't tell you how many times the photographers were bitching about the lighting, "we can shoot one or the other!"

Do you remember where those vocal samples came from on that song? The cop stuff.

Yeah, the "Freeze! Don't move, lady?" That came from the J. Geils' Band's album, Love Stinks. There was a little skit they did on that album.

And were you involved musically with "Love 2 Love U?" Because it's credited as being Debbie Cole featuring Partners In Kryme.

Yeah, we wrote and produced that. That was a song where, after tings started to go South with SBK, we started to shop our songs around to other music companies. And one label was getting songs together for a new Samantha Fox record. And they wanted sexy stuff and… she's very limited, always was and everybody knew. So we said, ok, let's see what we can do. And what we wanted to do, sort of, was remake the Donna Summers song. We went back and listened to it, and have you ever went back and listened to her original? There's no song! There's just the chorus; there's no verses at all. So, we sat down and Rich wrote some verses for it. And then we used the original for the hook and we came up with the music and everything for it. And we had our friend Debbie Cole do the demo. She was a friend of ours who we'd worked with before a little bit; she'd done one song that was going to be on our album… she was a really good background singer.

But eventually, they didn't want to use anybody's songs. They wound up going with the whole album produced by Full Force, and that album didn't go anywhere. So we wound up giving it to SBK. And they switched out our music; they had a guy who was a very hot club DJ in New York remix it.

Yeah, I've always felt that was the disappointing song in your catalog, because the music doesn't sound like your kind of stuff.

It wasn't. They completely replaced all of our music, which had more of the funk and the kind of music we were doing. They took all of that out completely and just used Rich's vocals and Debbie's.

Ok, so tell be about Bass Nation now, and KRB Music.

Oh, how did you know about that? Well, that was a thing where after we started producing some other acts, and they never went anywhere, but they made some demos and stuff like that… and we talked to SBK about wanting to produce some of the acts that they had; but we wouldn't do what they wanted; they weren't doing what we wanted. They had a couple of groups doing Boyz II Men-type stuff. They had a band called Riff, they had Fifth Platoon, who were more hip-hop…

Did you ever get in the studio with Fifth Platoon at all?

No, we never did. We always talked about it, but it never happened. And again it was one of those things where you could see that SBK were gonna fuck 'em up. Because they didn't know what they were doing, and they'd try to turn them into some pop act with no basis in reality. So we never really got involved with that.

And they didn't like enlist you to do anything for Vanilla Ice at all?

Oh, no! I don't think we would've been able to work together. Did you ever see his movie? It's one of those movies that's so bad, it's laughably bad. And we got to see it at the premiere, because we had a song on the soundtrack. It was packed with kids who were shouting and getting worked up like kids do. And to make it even worse, the projector kept breaking down. So at three or four points during the movie, it would stop, and the lights would come up. And by about the third time, some kid near the front shouted, "What's up, Iceman?" And instead of laughing it off like you'd do with a kid, I remember he stood up and shouted back, "who said that?" And his whole crew stood up, because he had all of his guys with him, and they went up to the front of the theatre to find this kid!

Eventually, I had to get out of that rat race. I had to raise my daughter and the New York lifestyle just never really worked for me. Which is why I lived in Montclair, but it was still too New York for me. So eventually my wife got a job offer to move to Indianapolis, and we went ahead and made the move.

When I got out there, I cast around and tried to do things here and there, and started to meet people in the music business there. It's definitely not New York! But I found an ad from a company that was trying to hire a music producer into a regular job, which I don't think I'd ever seen before. This was a company that was basically a music distributor; and they would put together music in big lots and sell really cheap CDs like 10 Country Hits. And they'd repackage old songs, put new covers on them and sell CDs for like four dollars at places at Odd Lot. And they were pretty successful at that, but the guy who owned the company thought, hey, if we can make our own music, that would be even cheaper! We wouldn't have to pay the record companies licensing fees. And the guy was an amazing salesman; the type who could sell anything. He was one of those guys. And so he hired to of us to be his on-site producers.

So he put together a studio there, in his offices, up above the warehouse where the guys were packing together the CDs and everything. And our job was to write music. We called it custom music, basically, where we'd put out like a set of10 CDs of nature music, or bass music or relaxation music or whatever. We'd come up with a concept and then just put together the music to fit it. Most of the music didn't have vocals on it, because we didn't have the time! The deal was, they would sell the CDs for $2 or the cassettes for $1. So we would have to sell them to the stores for $1 or 50 cents, which meant that we had to bang out music at unbelievable speed! If we didn't write, record and finish a song in one day, he'd be on us and say we were slackers. And sometimes it got to the point where it had to be a whole CD in one day - from nothing to finished product!

It was an awful job, very tough. You do it because how many jobs are there for music producers? So I did it for as long as I could, which was maybe two years, or about a year; and eventually I had to quit because I couldn't take it anymore. It was too much pressure. And he was making tons of money off this stuff and paying us very, very little.

Now, the good thing was I got to meet someone who was my producer there, Michael Clark, who is a really amazing string player… guitars, mandolin… He was one of the top session guys in Indianapolis. There was like a small community (a lot of those guys wound up being in John Mellencamp's band); and he was one of the top go-to guys. He came originally from a very country background and then got into doing a lot of pop stuff. So he brought in all of that, and I brought in the hip-hop stuff, and we started producing and were able to nail all different styles.

We started working with all the guys I met through him, and we formed a company called New York Music Works, where we did background work for films, commercials, TV, things like that. He eventually quit KRB as well. He lasted longer than I did, but he had to get out of there, too. I don't know what became of them, but I know he sold billions of those records at $2 a piece.

Well, you know there's a fan page dedicated to the bass CDs you guys did as Bass Nation.

Oh really? Yeah, we did like eleven or twelve CDs of that, and I did pretty much all the music on there, which was the sampling and putting it together and stuff like that. They didn't sound too good, also, because he would press them up at the cheapest places he could find. Because as long as he could sell it, that's all that mattered. I understood at the time that Miami bass was a genre that mostly wasn't very good. You could put out almost anything; you didn't have to be a real artist. You know, 69 Boyz and all that stuff is junk. So it was very easy to do. Just make a couple good drum and bass sounds and basically a lot of repetition.

I think he even kinda points out that the tracks you're credited with have more of an East coast vibe.

Yeah, I'm always gonna have that. There was one other guy we worked with for a couple tracks, who was local there; but he couldn't do it cheap enough! Nobody could do it cheap enough. So there are a couple, his, that had more of a west coast sound. And mine were always east.

Anyway, eventually, I moved to Austin. And you'd think the music scene in Austin would be a lot easier than Indianapolis. Austin, oh yeah, everybody talks about Austin and music! But strangely enough, that made it tougher. Because in Indianapolis, you can find everyone who's doing it very quickly. But out here, everybody's doing it. Everyone you meet, walking down the street, plays guitar in a band or plays bass, whatever. And I'm not talking about cover bands, but people who write and perform their own music, too. Plus all the emphasis there is on live music, and that's not what I do; I'm a recorder. So I looked around for a while but never got anywhere with it and I've been out of the music business for a while, sold all my equipment, don't have anything left.

I wound up getting a job with the IRS as a tax examiner, and really enjoyed that. Now I work for a company that's based out of North Carolina. The music thing was great for a while, I'm glad I did it, but now I'm glad I'm out of it; it's an awful business. Especially now, it's probably a billion times worse. I haven't bought a record in I don't know how long; I just download it off the internet. And there's not much left of the real hip-hop. The last album I got was an old Jurassic 5 album. That was like the last of the real hip-hop. There's one or two guys… Q-Tip's still around, but that's about it.

One last question before we end this… There's another group out there called The Partners in Kryme…

Oh, that's right! The calypso group. They were a couple years after we had really started working. We talked about getting them to stop using the name, but that was right about the time I was moving to Indianapolis, and it wasn't worth it. It turns out they never really went anywhere. Some people think it's the same group and get confused. If we were still out there and trying to use it, obviously we would have done something, but we let it go. But we had a platinum record out and everything. How they could go with that name without paying to clear it is beyond me.

But did you know there was also a rock band called Partners In Kryme? They were some local rock band in the 80's in Ohio or I don't know where they were… that really surprised me. So I guess we paid it forward!

Snow is setting up a Facebook fanpage for Partners In Kryme now. It's already got a bunch of photos and articles, and he promises music and lyrics soon. So if you have fond memories of the duo like I do, definitely drop by and check it out.


  1. Respects!
    I'm the man who put up the Bass Nation tribute page, for all who might be interested to know.

    Awesome bit of history here and thanks to our host for the blog.

    Two points I feel inclined to mention is that
    1. Bass Nation put out a total of 11 discs; 10 albums and one sampler release.
    2. Techno Fever is the title of my most favorite album from his Bass Nation project. Unfortunately for me, it is the only one where you can tell less than god-like mastering was at work.

    Whereas Keymaster Snow mentioned that these were done anywhere cheap, I have to say that other than the tunes on that particular album, the entire rest of the Bass Nation discography sounds just as top-notch as anything else to me and i'm somewhat picky about my sound quality. They are crisp and clear, and from my two cents, well produced. Techno Fever however, you tend to hear a little tape hiss or similar background interference though somewhat slight on most of the tunes.

    It's fairly difficult to find much of their work anymore, but if any of you out there do, they're worth a listen. Repetitive? Yeah, most of the tunes have that vibe, but that's how any good bass CD should be :)

    Thanks again to mr. Werner Von Wallenrod for a kickass blog, a man who has the same appreciation I do for true school hiphop. Much respects to Keymaster Snow for giving him the interview too. Peace, Love & Bass!

  2. Snow, I lived in Syracuse at the time "Hefty"/"1-2" came out and I still have a copy of that record. I can email you the mp3s of both songs just email me @ m71@markseventyone.com