Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Not Your Average
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
In terms of having some tough breaks in the rap game, Mikey D has weathered some rough times over the years. From Cool J allegedly biting his style in the old days to an ill-fated stint as Xtra-P’s replacement in Main Source and having his NMS belt stolen by Melle Mel, Mikey has endured as a street legend. Now that his vaulted solo album from 1989 has finally been released, it seemed like the perfect time to release this interview I did with him back in 2005.
Robbie: There’s been a lot of talk about Paul C recently, but a lot of people seem to forget that you were his main rapper. What was it like working together?
Mikey D: In the early days with Paul C, it was just crazy. When we met each other, we just clicked. He had a small studio in his garage in Rosedale, I was all the way on the other side of town doing my thing, and we had mutual friends – the Clientele Brothers – these guys that I used to rap with. They used to work with Paul first, and then they introduced us and we just clicked from there. What happened was, he got a position at 1212 Studio, in Jamaica, Queens. We had access to the studio, so anytime they didn’t have sessions, we would come up there late night. Me and Johnny Quest – two young, little dudes goin’ up there, doin’ our thing. It was crazy because Paul was spontaneous and freestyle, like as far as the beats. Like when a rapper can freestyle, that’s how Paul was with his beats, and that’s how I was with my rhymes. So anytime we connected in the studio it was just crazy, and it just so happened that we had our hands on a couple of independent labels that was interested in us, so we let them just bang our shit out.
Like Public Records and Reality?
Reality was first, that was a little bit before Paul C because I had met this manager, Arthur Armstrong. Actually, I went to the “Krush Groove” auditions for that movie. I just wanted to be an extra, and I was out there freestyling and everything. A DJ – Dr. Shock – I didn’t know him, he hooked me up with this manager, Arthur Armstrong – and I had just met my girl at the time, and it just so happened my girl, Sha-Love, she was a rapper, and she had a group called the Symbolic Four. Armstrong was a close friend of Jerry Bloodrock from Reality Records, and they had the Doug E. Fresh “The Show” out at the time, and they wanted an answer – but they wanted it on the same label. So I wrote everything for Symbolic Three, you know what I’m sayin’. That was right before Paul C.
That was one of the best answer records to “The Show”.
Yeah, but you know… I didn’t want to do it though. At the time, controversy wasn’t selling. Controversy meant “You’re jealous”, and I didn’t want to get that kind of perception. But Jerry Bloodrock told them “It’s on the same label, don’t worry about it. You’re labelmates”. That’s the only reason I did it.
You had that record “I Get Rough” where you talking about LL and everything. You’ve said that he kind of took your whole style with the Kangols.
With me and the LL thing – “I Get Rough”, that’s how I was feeling at the time. He never bit rhymes or anything, but image-wise? I would say so. I was definitely walking around with Kangols and sweatsuits, while he was walking around with jheri curls and a headband, you know what I mean? [laughs] We was cool and everything, but when he came out it was like… I can’t say his rhymes, but that image – that was my image, you know?
That was your look.
Yeah, it was wild. So of course I was angry at the time. And then, what really pissed me off is when he came out with “I Need A Beat”, and you got all of your fans saying “Yo, I like your new record!”, “But that’s not me! That’s Cool J!” – it got crazy. There was a lot of similarities, man. You know, just young stuff.
Did Paul C know Large Pro at that time? Or did he get down with him later on?
You know what’s crazy about that? Large Professor always tells me, he said when I was working with Paul C he was always the student. He was that young dude that was just there at our sessions. When we used to record, we used to always have a house full of people, ’cause that makes me comfortable. I like to see the reactions on people’s faces when I’m recording. But Paul – I never noticed Paul! He said he was that young dude, he was analysing everything! He was checking out Paul C, his style, he was checking me out, you know what I mean? He was there when he was a younger cat. That’s my man, I love him.
I remember when you joined Main Source after him leaving, you were saying “There’s no hard feelings”. Was that a bit of a difficult situation, or was he cool with it?
Well, I don’t think he had any idea of me getting down with them at first, but then when he heard the records, he found out that I was down. There was definitely no hard feelings on my part, nor his, because after that whole situation went down we sat down and spoke about that whole situation. Ironically, I got caught-up in the same exact situation that he left for! You’re dealing with two brothers – K-Kut and Sir Scratch are brothers – and their mother happens to be the manager. Of course she’s gonna cater to her children. I had no idea of publishing or anything at the time, when I got down with them I was strictly “I want my writer’s royalties” and blasé blah blah, so they had no problems with that. K-Kut, he was cool with me, so he introduced me to publishing. He said: “You need to come up with a publishing name”, and I did that and then we gave over the information to his mother for my publishing. And you know what? Ms. McKenzie got angry over that, because K-Kut told me about publishing! Basically that was the same situation Paul had. The publishing wasn’t right, this, that and the third.
So Mrs. McKenzie wanted to keep the publishing for herself or the two brothers?
Yeah, they wanted to keep that inside of the family or whatever. Even when I first got down with Main Source, they wanted to do a joint with me dissin’ Large Professor, and I was like “Nah, absolutely not! Why should I diss Large Professor? I don’t have no beef with him – y’all do! [laughs] Y’all wanna diss him, y’all go ahead! Y’all write the rhymes and y’all do it, I don’t want no parts to that. I have no problems with him”.
Then in the end, the album didn’t come out officially until years later.
Exactly, because what happened was, when we had the single out – “What You Need” – we went to California. Now at the time I was with Main Source, MC Serch was Vice President of Marketing at Wild Pitch Records. He was also Nas‘ manager. Nas was an up-and-comer with the Serchlite thing or whatever. We went to California to do Soul Train, and Serch – they happened to hire him as our road manager! He kind of sabotaged our whole trip down there, because instead of promoting the Main Source thing, this guy was promoting Nas! We were sittin’ in the hotel – our limousines were gone – because Serch went to a radio station! He’s promoting Nas!
We get to the Soul Train thing, and Serch is really bugging-out now. Now he’s putting “What You Need” stickers on the Soul Train dancers! Don Cornelius even had a verbal with Serch about it. From the door, we felt that that was a sabotage right there, and when we got back to New York, all hell broke loose at the Wild Pitch label.
So was that the reason they didn’t release the album?
I think Sandra McKenzie had a different game plan up her sleeve, ’cause we had a complete album, and it was a smoker. I think she wanted to get a release from the label and go to a bigger label or whatever. And I think that right there [the Soul Train incident] was “OK, I’m gonna use this as the excuse to get my guys off of there”. I just wanted to come up. I wanted to be successful, I wanted to be heard, I wanted to get a little bit of paper, so I went with the flow. But after that situation, it was crazy. When we had the big argument up at Wild Pitch tryin’ to get the release, that’s when we all went our separate ways. It was a lot of other things that went down, but I don’t even want to capitalise on that right now because it’s about Mikey D.
Were you happy with the way that album turned out when you look back at it?
I think we could have done it a lot better if we’d had a longer time. When I got down with the Main Source project we were working on a schedule that they had, prior to me, so I had to fill that time clock. In all actuality, we had two albums recorded, because what they did was they shipped me down to Canada. We did the album down there but nobody was feeling it. You know why? Because Canada – the people are too friendly, the environment is too friendly and I just wasn’t in my element. I couldn’t get it really poppin’. “What You Need”, I did with a tooth-ache! [laughs]. Jadekiss and Sheek – we went to the Bronx, we met on mutual grounds, before Jadakiss came out with anything, before Sheek, The LOX came out with anything. We met up with these guys and I heard ‘em and I felt them. I was like “Put these guys on the album”. I think if I’d had more time and more preparation, I think we’d have come off with a much better album. We were rushed… I was rushed, basically.
Did they have some songs which they already had the music for, and they said “Do you wanna rap on this”?
The one that released, finally, after a couple of years, we had to do that one over from scratch in New York. The one we did in Canada, they had already pre-recorded with other rappers, so we came to New York and we did it right.
Another big incident was when you won the New Musical Seminar battle. What actually happened with that?
That was incredible. If anybody that’s reading this knows the history of Mikey D, the year before that – 1987, in “I Get Rough”, I said “I don’t even have to practice for the seminar” – right? Now, 1988, me and Johnny Quest, and Paul C – Mikey D and the LA Posse – we got a deal with Sleeping Bag Records. These guys have so much faith in me that they’ve entered me into that seminar – which I didn’t know about – you know, I really didn’t care because I came-up a battle rapper. So in the preliminary round I had to battle Mr. X. You know, “I drink old gold!” [laughs]. This guy’s from right around the way, so “This is gonna be alright”. I didn’t think it was gonna be easy, I’m not gonna brag – but I knew it. Anyway, I took him out [laughs].
The next day, they said I had to come early in the morning. I had to go to the Marriot Marquis, now this is where the real battle takes place. We were partied-out from the night before, me and my crew. I had a crew of like 30 people with me! [laughs] Me and Johnny Quest – just us – we go up there by ourselves, little niggas from Queens – that is the illest. Two little cats from Queens, and we got everybody out here. We got MC Serch, King Sun, Bango from Chicago, there was so many rappers in this shit. But anyway, I’m goin’ for mines, ya know? I eliminated the competition, on the humble shit, ’cause I wasn’t tryin’ to be arrogant or “I’m all that”. Shit, I knew it was just two of us, yo. They could kick our ass! So I’m just gonna rhyme and do our thing. We get to the final, and the final cat was Bango – you know, whatever. I did what I had to do, and that was that.
So now I’d already won the belt, now they’re saying “we’re gonna have a demonstration”, or some cool shit between this year’s champion and last year’s champion. OK – Melle Mel. This guy turns it into a battle! He’s talking about “This motherfucker, he’s from nowhere! He’s nobody! He don’t deserve this belt – these belts are mine!”, ’cause he’s bitter about his career and I’m just on the come-up. Like “Alright, pfft! Whatever!” So now we go at it. This guy goes first and he starts disrespecting me and shit, so I’m like “Aight, whatever. I’ma fuck this nigga up” [laughs] You know what I mean? So he said his shit, and I liked it – it was pretty cute. But then it was my turn. Now this guy had the nerve to start doing push-ups on stage! A big muscle man – y’know, I’m a skinny guy, I’m also 21 years-old. Anyway, I tell the guys with the SP12s: “Turn the music off, I’m gonna rhyme off the beats of his push-ups!” And I started goin’ on him, off the beats of his push-ups! [I'm laughing myself stupid by now] The crowd went wild! That was round one. Now round two, this guy says “Alright, if you’re a real champion – you’ll battle for the belt!” He slammed his belt down, I kept my belt in my hand, and the crowd is like… actually, I said “I’m not gonna battle you for the belt, ’cause I just won this. I wanna take this home and let people know that I did what I did”. But the crowd – “Go Mikey!” with the chant: “Go Mikey! Go Mikey!” I looked at Melle Mel, I looked at the belt, and I slammed my belt on top of his and went for round two! I destroyed him, but as I was destroying him, Grandmaster Caz – which used to be my idol – picked both of the belts up, when I had my back turned, and started walking off with those belts! He started walking off with those fuckin’ belts, which broke my heart when I lost my respect for the Grandmaster Caz and definitely Mel.
Damn! So you think it was a case of the old school guys getting mad at people coming up?
Yeah, yeah, and especially a cat from Queens. A little, new, cute motherfucker from Queens comin’ up? I didn’t have no juice, but after they pulled that shit I had the whole crowd ready to kill whoever! Not to kill, but ready to just stand-up! But you know what? Everybody that said they was ready to do something to Melle Mel, I said: “No, don’t do it, ’cause it’s gonna look bad on my part”. Big Daddy Kane was there, he was tryin’ to stop Melle Mel from walking down the stairs with the belt, like “Chill!” He pushed Kane right down the stairs! He mushed Jackie Paul in her face! Jackie Paul, a main baller in the New Music Seminar! Things like that, you know what I mean? It was ridiculous, man.
He was just playin’ himself.
Yeah, he played himself hard. Grandmaster Flash came to me two days later, apologising for Melle Mel’s actions. But it’s all good, my heart is good. I love that dude… I just lost respect for him. I don’t want any harm to happen to him. And what did Tom Silverman and them do? They made me a bigger and better belt. [laughs] Go ahead, you can keep those belts, Mel! Ga ‘head! Guess what? Right now, me and Mel can talk the way me and you are talkin’. It’s nothin’ but love in the air.
Is there video of all that stuff?
There has to be. I’ll have to find out where. I know we got snidbits on CD, but I don’t know who got the video.
40 Killer [Mikey's manager]: Biz Markie and Red Alert.
So after the Main Source stuff happened, you took a little time off from the industry?
I took a little time out. I was younger at the time, so I was whylin’ out too. Drinking, bringing my crew up to certain labels and we’d be acting crazy… it was getting a little nervous. I was becoming a liability as far as “This guy right here – he’s too wild. He’s reckless”. So I took a vacation. And then I took another vacation for the fact that I didn’t like the turn that hip-hop was taking as far as the guns and the bling-bling. That’s not the stuff that I rap about, this is not what I do.
It got real corny for a minute.
Exactly, and I wasn’t feelin’ that, so I was like “Fuck it”. My daughter was born, I had to raise my child. She’s 16 years old now and she spits better than me! [laughs] She was doin’ it since she was three. She’s nice. I was also mad at the industry because it seems like they put age on talent. What, you have to be 17 to be blessed with hip-hop? So I got over that hump and I’m just bananas now. Lyrically, as far as my business aspect, everything is a 360 right now.
I liked that record that you had where Paul sampled Rahzel beatboxing “Brick House” and actually made a beat out of it. That was crazy.
That was “I Get Rough”. Yeah, he did the damn thing. That was sick. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. He matched me up with that. I always liked “Brick House”, but when he did with Rahzel’s voice, that was sick. And Rahzel didn’t know what was going on either! [laughs] So we both looked at each other like “What the hell?!” Paul C was such a genius man.
You’re also putting together a documentary based on some of your experiences?
We’re about to go onto the last quarter of that. So we have Fishgrease, he produced a lot of music videos, my man John Trace. We slowed down on that also, but since this new CD came out it’s started picking back up, so now we have more footage. Y’all are gonna be excited when y’all see it. You’re gonna see some park jams, the way it used to be. I don’t know about all the breakdancing, I’m talkin’ about the hip-hop side of town, ya know? [chuckles]
I hear ya. Tell me more about you and the Clientele Brothers.
The Clientele Brothers, they were the hottest group around. They was like the Cold Crush Brothers were in the Bronx. What the Cold Crush were doing in the Bronx, the Clientele Brothers were doing it for Queens. I was just a little young cat on the come-up, and they adopted me, you know what I mean? So I started runnin’ with them. Actually, we did a record. The first time around when Jesse Jackson was running for President, we made a record called “Run, Jesse, Run”. Sure enough, a month later, Furious Five came out with a record called “Run, Jesse, Run”. We was on NIA records, before Marley Marl and MC Shan. We was working with The Aleems. A lotta history.
You came-up as a battle rapper. Are there any well-known guys that you battled back in the days?
I battled anybody who was anybody at the time. I went against Cheeks at the park, you know Mr. Cheeks. Kwame – he tried to come-up, but it wasn’t workin’ for him. There’s a few, I can’t even name ‘em all off hand. I would just go to your town. If somebody told me where you lived… Kool G Rap, I battled him, and that’s how me and him became real close friends. I went to his house!
So you turned up on his doorstep and said “Let’s go”?
Yeah, if I heard you nice, you’re the nicest rapper in your town – that’s me! I would come around – without a crew! I don’t need a crew, just two of us. We would go around there, no guns or nothin’, it wasn’t all about guns. It was about 40s back then.
We would just battle, man. It was a great time.
Was that around ’85, ’86?
I would say before that. I would say ’82, ’83. Just runnin’ around, battlin’ anybody. Just goin’ to everybody’s neighbourhood: “Who’s the best MC out here?” stepping into anybody’s cypher, just goin’ at ‘em.
What would you consider to be your best record?
“Go For It”, the flipside of “I Get Rough”. Between that and “Comin’ In The House”, because that was on a whole different level.
[I start humming the piano line]
[joins in on the chorus] “I’m comin’ baby!” It’s on a different note. Those two I consider my best – that were released!
What about from the Main Source album?
It’s between “What You Need”, “Set It Off” with Jadakiss, and “Diary of A Hitman”, which was a real crazy story.
That was my favourite off there.
‘Cause I put my heart and my pen into that. I coulda wrote it in red and let me bleed, that would’ve been the one.
Anything you’d like to add?
Don’t let my age fool you, ’cause it gets better with time! [laughs] The rhyme gets better with time. Plus, I don’t even look my age, but I’m not gonna come out frontin’ like I’m 26 years-old. I’m a 37 year-old man, and trust me – I can keep up with the best of the youngsters.
Once you hit 60, that’s when you’re too old.
I ain’t gonna quit it until I forget it. Until I get Alzheimer’s, that’s when I’ll stop. But until then? I’ma always be there.
You can pick-up the collected works of Mikey D and Paul C through Red Line Distribution.
Mikey D & The LA Posse - “Listen To The Bass Line” [Better Late Than Never, MicSic/Redline, 2006]
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