Filed under: Features,Flavor Unit Special,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
If, for some ungodly reason, you’re not familiar with the work of Chill Rob G then you might want to check this before you read this interview I did with Rob a couple of months ago.
Robbie: In the early days of the Flavor Unit, was it tough for you guys to get accepted in New York, being that you’re from New Jersey?
Chill Rob G: In the very beginning I think we did have a bit of a problem, because at that time just about every MC who had a deal was from New York. I was one of the later members to come along, from the original Flavor Unit members, it was like Latifah, Apache and Latee – it was just those three. Then when I came along, Red Alert would play Mark’s beats but he wouldn’t play the MC’s – he wouldn’t play anything with the rappers on it. So I think one of my records, something that me and Mark did, was one of the first things he played with somebody rhyming on it. Then after that the door was kinda open.
So he’d only play stuff like “The 900 Number” before that?
“900 Number” came along later. Mark used to give Red Alert just beats for maybe a year before I even met him, and Red Alert would just play the beat on the show when he would interview people, or just talk over the beat, stuff like that. He had a little drop in the radio station, and it would go “45 King special-special!” and he would play the beat – but nobody would rhyme to it!
Were you friends with Latee and everyone or did you just meet them through music?
I was friends with Apache and Latee. We went to high school together out here in Jersey city, and then they moved to Irvington, and that’s where they met Mark. Mark had just moved to Irvington from Queens – he was living in Hollis – so everyone just sorta met up. I met Latee at a party, he told me he knew this guy who did beats and I should come by the crib and blase-blah. So I went down there one night, and Mark put a beat on and everybody started rhyming and they just passed the mic to me and I said a couple of rhymes that I had written – I always just wrote rhymes just for the hell of it. I always thought maybe one day I’ll get that break…I didn’t really think it would happen though! I happened to be in Mark’s basement and I did the rhymes, and he called me up. He asked Latee for me phone number and called me up like a day later, and was like “Yo Rob, what you were sayin’ in the basement was kinda dope. I think you ready to make a record. I wanna make the record with you.” I was like “Cool”.
So you started making demos from that point?
You know what? We didn’t really make too many demos. We did like two songs. We went into this little bootleg studio, a guy named Vaughn Mason had a studio. Mark had moved from his mother’s house to an apartment, and the apartment that he was living in, the guy who owned the house had a studio in the basement. So he was charging Mark like $30 an hour to go down there and use the studio, so we was like “Cool”. I came up with $30, Mark came up with $30, we went down there and Mark was like “Yo, you’ve gotta have your stuff ready ’cause we don’t got a lotta time!” I’m like “Cool, don’t worry about it”. So we went in there and – bang! We knocked out two songs. We gave ’em to Red Alert, he played ’em and Red Alert got a call from this guy called Stu Fine, who owned Wild Pitch records. Stu Fine didn’t really have anybody on his label at the time. He had some kid named LeMonier – and the song was wack. Anyway, Stu Fine called Red Alert and asked him “I heard a demo that you played” – ’cause I think Red Alert, when he played the record, he mentioned that it was on a white label and that I wasn’t signed – so Stu Fine called him and asked him who I was. Red Alert called Mark and asked him if he could give my number out and all that kind of foolishness, and the next thing you know I was having a cheeseburger with Stu Fine and he asked me if I wanted to sign a deal with him or something. I was like “Aight, yeah sure”.
So was the song he played the “Red Alert Intro” from his “We Can Do This” album?
That actually came along later. ‘Cause Red Alert was cool to me, man. He let me come up to the studio and hang out with him at the radio station, he was introducing me to a lot of different people, I went up to his house in the Bronx. He was lookin’ out for me, so I said “You know what Red? I’mma hit you off with a little intro for your radio show.” He was like “Aight, whatever”. He didn’t ask me to do it, I just decided to do it. I did it and I gave it to him, and he played it.
Did those first two songs you cut make the album?
The first two songs were “Chillin'” and “Dope Rhymes”.
When you actually put the album together, were you involved in picking any of the records, like when you rhymed over that Police record?
You know what? Actually, I didn’t even want to use that Police record. Mark suggested it to me, and it was different from what everyone else was doing at the time so I was like “Err, I don’t know. I don’t think I want to use that song”. So he kept telling me “Yo look, you’ve gotta use this beat, this is hot! Use it, use it, use it”. And when he first played it he was playing it a little faster than what we actually ended up using, he was playing it like a hundred and something beats a minute. He only slowed it down a little bit but it was goin’ real fast and I didn’t want to use it. But then he slowed it down and I decided “OK, let me give it a shot”, and when I rhymed to it everybody was like “Yo! That’s the song!” Everybody was real hype. I thought it was OK, I didn’t know how good it was, but everybody else seemed to think it was one of the best things I did.
And those were some of the rhymes that those German producers stole for that “Power” song.
Exactly. These two guys in Germany working in a basement got a hold of my record…see, I told Mark we shouldn’t keep putting accapellas! I said it, and it happened! “If we keep putting accapellas on these records, somebody’s gonna snatch the accapella and make a whole ‘nother record of it”. That’s exactly what they did!
After that happened, you guys recorded your own version. What was the story with that?
I think Stu Fine probably had a deal under the table with Arista records out in Germany, and he actually licensed the record to them – but they didn’t have a deal for the US. So since the record was doing so big out there, Stu came to me as if he had no idea what was going on and he said “Yo Rob, let’s put the song out. I mean it’s doing really well in Germany, we might as well make some money out this”. I mean it was me, it was my stuff, so I said “Cool, let’s do it”. So we put the song out and then the next thing you know Arista Records decided that they wanted to put it out over here too, but since they couldn’t use me – they couldn’t just put out the same record – that’s when they got Turbo B to go in the studio and make the version that became Snap. He didn’t have a contract, he didn’t have anything, this guy – he really got used!
He was in the Air Force over in Germany! They just found him and said “Hey buddy, you wanna make a record?”
Yeah. He was running around out there in Germany telling everybody “Yeah, I used to play the drums for Big Daddy Kane and I used to rap” and whatever else he was tellin’ ’em, and I guess word got back to somebody and they thought they got a rapper that they could use, so they got this guy to go in the studio and try and record some vocals under the same format as this song. So they played my song for him, told him to “stick to this and give us what you can give us”.
Did the version you and Mark did end up being popular?
It was real big for hip-hop heads who know. If you go to a hip-hop club in New York, that was the version that was playing more often than not, at the height of the controversy. But it was Arista records versus Wild Pitch Records, you know what I’m sayin’? So Wild Pitch lost – big time. ‘Cause Arista was global and Wild Pitch was like “Who’s Wild Pitch?” I was still running around, doing what I could do to help our cause, but we just couldn’t beat that money, man.
What happened after the Ride The Rhythm album? Did that whole “Power” thing leave a bad taste in your mouth, or were there other issues?
The “Power” thing was like a mixed blessing because I did get more notoriety, but the problem became – now I was really looking at my contract with Wild Pitch. I was like “You know, this is not good. I don’t have a real tight deal here, I’m not making no real money”. The fact is, I was goin’ out on tour with Public Enemy and Heavy D, and I had a hard time getting Wild Pitch to give me some money to go out on this tour! So my deal was really starting to look funky to me. I started feelin’ like a step-child. Plus Naughty By Nature was just comin’ on the scene, so Tommy Boy gave them a nice little budget to do their first album. I mean it was well over $100,000. So that was a lotta money for back then. And when I went to negotiate with Stu Fine to do my second album, we’re sittin’ in the restaurant and my record is playing on the radio or whatever, and this guy tried to low-ball me man, and it really turned me off. I mean he offered my something like under $50,000 to do an album with him, and I was pissed! I wanted to hit him in the face! But I thought better of it, I just got up and I left. I said “You know what? We can’t deal. I’ve gotta do something different”. Sha-Kim, my manager at the time, was really trying to talk me into doing it. He was like “Rob, you know…maybe we should” – I didn’t want to mess with them!
Did you continue to work on music after that?
Well, for a while I left it alone, or I didn’t go back to the studio because the clock was ticking, people was listening to different stuff – different music, like other artists were coming out – so the popularity was starting to dwindle…and that was really fine for me. I was having some personal issues, like my brother died of AIDS, my cousin died – she had AIDS also, and a real close friend of mine – he died, OD’ on some drugs. Things was just going so crazy in my life at that point man, I was like “Wow”, you know? And then people were still coming up to me…I was standing on the corner…I was just standing, minding my business, and somebody came up to me…I was thinking about my brother, you know? And I hadn’t really cried yet, but this is my brother, man! And I hadn’t cried about it, I hadn’t really felt any emotion about it, and then somebody came up to me and started talking to me about some music, like “When are you going back in the studio, Rob? We’re waiting for some new stuff!” And I didn’t fuckin’ wanna talk about that! I was pissed! I was even mad at the dude, and so I got into a big argument with this dude over that – I’ll never forget that. Then I went in the house after that, slammed the door and I don’t think I came outside for the rest of that week! [chuckles] It was a crazy time, man.
Yeah. Plus the girlfriend I was seein’ at the time – broke up with her. I was pissed off at the deal that I was having with Wild Pitch. I was pissed off at my manager ’cause I felt like they wasn’t doing enough. I just wasn’t happy – I was not a happy camper.
Eventually you put out the Black Gold album.
The Black Gold is kind of a compilation of stuff from ’93 up until 2001, 2002. I got like five different guys, at different times, gave me tracks and I just recorded here, recorded there, recorded over there. One of the songs I did in somebody’s bathroom. Maybe two or three of them I actually did in a studio. When people say it’s not a good album, I agree. There’s no continuity to it. I was in a different mind-state at different times – that’s no way to make a record. In the most ideal conditions – you take about a year, you collect all your thoughts and whatever you wanna do, you get all your beats, whatever your process – but you just move forward from song to song over the course of no more than a year. This way the whole album sounds like one complete thing. But I did that album over eight, nine years of making this one album! It wasn’t an intention to make an album, I was just recording songs.
Did someone just say “Let’s put it out”?
That’s exactly what happened. A guy named Jeff Collins over at…I don’t even think he still has a label.
Was that Echo International?
Yeah. I was living in Brooklyn at the time, and Jeff hooked me up with these guys out in Brooklyn and you know they really inspired me, ’cause these cats was really hungry! They was hungry like I used to be. I was like “Yo, let’s get at it” and they had me feeling like I wanted to do that again. I wanted to get in the studio and do some things. So I did about three songs with this guy named Rell, those are like some of my favorite songs on the record.
On to Part 2 of the interview….
Chill Rob G – Let Me Know Something (45 King Remix) [Black Gold, Echo International, 2000]
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