Filed under: Crates,Features,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Continuing on from Part 1, Todd discusses being a white guy in rap when Public Enemy blew up, working with Big Beat Records, producing Percee-P, skateboard connections and “Lost Tapes” tragedy….
T-Ray: I’ll never forget walking down the streets of New York City with a fuckin’ red bomber jacket that had a big logo on the back that said “The White Boys”.
[I burst out laughing]
There were six or seven of us, and people thought that we were a racist gang, like skinheads or something. We’re just tryin’ to rap and have fun with young kids – at that time it wasn’t even a grown-up thing, it was like a kid thing – and I’ll never forget people coming up as we’d walk by, and they’d yell “That’s the most racist thing I’ve ever seen!” and I was like “Yo?!?”. I found out I was naïve, I just didn’t understand that people are so lost in their mind, that race really separates. See I grew up in the woods – I grew up in I guess a secluded way or something, and it started bugging me out. I really started learning about the world like that. I learnt about the world through hip-hop, because I was intelligent, I was very smart, but I was not worldly. We were named the White Boys by Black people, but now Black people are looking at this name – because I’m in New York, I’m not down South. They don’t know about how we came up, they don’t know who we are, they’re seeing is a bunch of guys walkin’ round with “White Boys” jackets on. Then I went back to our album – we had a fuckin’ song called “The White Boys Are Runnin’ The Show”! [laughs]. I never thought of it from an angry Black person’s point of view. “Oh shit! They’re gonna take this fucked-up!” We were just with the wrong producers at the time, the wrong managers, ’cause they didn’t catch onto all of that shit. We were naïve country boys, we didn’t know how people would respond to shit like that. But when Public Enemy came out, that’s when it became super-clear, and my group fell apart.
Robbie: I still remember buying that “You’re Gonna Get Yours” 12″, and it took me about five listens to the B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”, to take it all in. When I first heard it, I thought “What is this?” It was so different.
Exactly! And the fact that they were just looping [imitates the whining loop], I was like “What the fuck?! That’s crazy!”, ’cause at that time, going all the way back to when I was in my shack, literally in the woods, I made beats very similar to that. What I would do was just take sounds, and I would incorporate multiple sounds, like every sound that I could throw in, and when they came with that, I said “Oh shit!” But the problem was I was white as a motherfucker in the most black moment! I just took it as “Fuck it. This is a moment for you, ’cause you’ve always made beats like this. You should be doing this. If people are having a hard time with the way you look, with the way you talk, with that you’ve got long hair, you’re white – well fuck it, I’ll make beats!” I got so fuckin’ broke I had to move back down South, back to that fuckin’ shack, and I just started making beats, man. Mad beats, I’m not kidding – every fucking day, from the time I went to bed, to the time the sun came up the next morning, I would do nothing but make beats. Actually, I made beats and I made furniture. I would go out in to the woods and cut down little trees, pick up sticks and shit and just nail them together into some real bugged-out natural thrones and shit like that. I would just make chairs out of natural wood, and then people started bugging-out on my chairs. They started buying my stuff, considering me like a folk artist. I started making tons of money just off my furniture, so would I would do was I’d make a chair a day, and make beats for the rest of it. It would take me about two hours to make a chair, and I could get maybe get anywhere from 200 to 700 dollars for that chair.
For two hours work? You’ve gotta love that.
Oh yeah. That’s how I made my money to get back to New York. I made beats all day, every fucking day for a couple of years. This was going right into ’90, I guess. What happened was I called a friend of mine from New York – at the time I didn’t have a fuckin’ phone, I was deep in the woods. It took me 15-20 minutes to get to a pay phone. So I called him up, he was like “Yo! What you been up to man? Where you at? I’m in the studio with KRS!” And this kid – I had just taught him how to make beats, he didn’t know how to make beats for more than a year, at the most – and now he’s in the studio hangin’ out with KRS! I was like “I’m supposed to be in New York. If this kid’s getting on, then I’m fuckin’ running shit!”
Who was that dude? Is that someone who I’d know of?
No, he never made it. He never did anything with KRS, he was just in Power Play Studios, and KRS was in the other room. He was a friend of mine, a graffiti artist by the name of NAP. So I just decided to move back to New York. I didn’t know anybody man, I just packed up all my shit. I told my girl – she’d actually come down with me from New York, straight New Yorker – “Look, I’m putting you on the bus, you’re gonna go back to your moms to find us an apartment that we can afford. As soon as you find one, I’m coming”. A day or so later, she’d found an apartment. I loaded up all my records, my couch, my bed, my TV, drove straight to New York. We ended up moving into Brooklyn, and from that point on man, I did nothing but make beats. I got to the point where I was running out of money in New York, I got the point where I was penniless. I didn’t have my rent, I didn’t know what the fuck I was gonna do. I got to the point where I said “Yo, fuck it, I’m just gonna have to take somebody’s money. I just gotta get the rent, I gotta rob somebody. There’s nothing else I can do!” I’ll never forget it, this moment was real, this is the cosmic shit coming to life with full force right here. The day before, there was an internship advertised in the Village Voice, and I said “Well shit, maybe I can get a job at a label, and that’ll be the way I’ll get back in”. So I went to the office, it was a little-ass office, maybe 15 by 15 feet. It was just one guy behind a desk and this one girl who was like an intern and his assistant. They had a couple of boxes of records on the floor and nothing else in the room, but a box to play cassettes on. So I go in and I was like “Well what kind of music is the label?” and he tells me and plays me one song. It was like a remake of a dance record that was already out, this was a new version of it or something. I was like “That’s cool, I know this song. How much does it pay?” He’s like “It’s an internship, it doesn’t pay”, I was like “Oh shit, man. I would love to work with you but I gotta pay my rent right now and I can’t do it. But I’ll tell you somethin’, this shit that you’re doin’ right here, this dance shit? This is cool, you’re gonna sell a few records like this, but the real shit, the shit that’s gonna take over, that’s gonna make you big? Is hip-hop”. “Dang, why do you say that?” So I threw on a cassette. Bro, I played him a ninety minute tape, front and back, and each beat was only on there for two minutes at the most, and he stood there looking at the cassette like “Oh shit! This is something!” The girl, his assistant, was sitting in there like “Yo, that’s hot! Oh this is the shit!” When I got done playing that tape, he was like “Yo, we need to talk! That’s some incredible shit.” I was like “You wanna hear more?” Man, I dumped my whole bag of cassettes all over his desk and said “All I’ve got is beats. This is what I do. This is what’s gonna make you rich.”
So anyway, to get back to the story of me about to rob somebody, I was in a basement apartment, sleeping next to the fuckin’ furnace – I mean that’s how bad my shit was, I used to sweat all fuckin’ night – I came out, I had my fucking knife, I put my hoodie on, and I’ll never forget… I walked out, and it started pouring down with rain. It was the coldest fuckin’ rain I ever felt in my life – and the water woke me up. I was ready to hurt somebody, it just didn’t seem like it mattered at that time. That water woke me up, man. So I turned around and went back into my apartment, sat on the bed – almost fuckin’ cried, I was that hurt. I came from violence, but at that time I was more positive, on some cosmic “trying to change the world” shit, so it was hurtin’ me to feel that. I lay down and went to bed. I got woke up next morning from that guy from that label calling me on the phone saying “Yo, this kid did a one minute promo for Red Alert, and people are calling the store thinking it’s a record. If you can figure out how to make it a record, I’ll give you a job.” He played me the loop and it was “Don Dada, now easy Supercat man you a Don Dada” – it was Kenny Dope. He had just looped that chorus, and he had put it under a beat that was out at the time. So I told him “Yo Craig, man, I’ve been doing this style since ’83! I know this style!” I had made songs like that before that I would play while I was deejaying, looping-up things like the intro to “Planet Rock” and putting a beat under it. So I said “Yo, I know how to do this shit. I’ll do this in one day!” and so was like “How much is your rent?” My rent was $550, and he was like “I’ll give you $500.” So I went in a day or two later. That Supercat song had mad breaks, all the classics, it went on for like seven minutes – all of that’s me! The only thing that’s Kenny Dope’s is the chorus that he sampled off of the record.
[laughing] So you were “The Mad Racket”?
Yeah! That shit came out and blew-up. That was really the start of Big Beat Records, who later put out everyone from Artifacts to Lil’ Kim. That’s how I ended-up producing all that 90s shit for them, ‘cause in a sense I brought all that to the table with them. Later, there was Stretch Armstrong, who was a part of that. Reef, who continued to be a part of Big Beat into Atlantic and now does a lot of beats and shit. The way that Artifacts got on the label was cause me, Stretch Armstrong and Reef – Stretch had his radio show at the time, so we were hanging out up there, and these guys who later were named Artifacts – they were That’s Them before that – they would come up to the show and rhyme, and Stretch was like “Yo, these guys are nice, man. Tell me what you think about ‘em?” and I was like “I could turn them into something good, man. Let’s me, you and Reef start our own independent label, and make these guys be our first artist”. But we didn’t have the money to do it, so I said “Fuck it, let’s take it to Craig and he’ll put it out”. So I produced the record, and I decided to put “Wrong Side of The Tracks” out with “Whassup Now Muthafucka” and all that on the B-side. I was tryin’ to bring back the era of having bonus beats and shit like that. I wanted to make sure that that 12″ had three songs, bonus beats and an accapella. I wanted to make sure that the DJ’s had all that they needed. And it worked. I don’t think it went gold, but that album sold 350,000 or some shit like that, and at that time, that was big! It didn’t have no super-hit on it or nothin’, that was just street hip-hop at the time. Same thing with Double XX Posse. Sugar Ray had a record out before, and then we found out that he had a group, so we were like “Fuck it, let’s do this. Let’s sign this guy!”
I love that album.
That was a moment, man! That was just crazy. That was that era when I was making beats with tonnes of layers. When I listen back, the mixes weren’t that good and shit like that, but I really didn’t know what I was doin’. I was just doin’ what I felt. I remember The Beatnuts hangin’ out with me, and their track might have a drum loop, a kick, snare, an 808 and a loop – it’s be like eight, ten tracks, and I’d be like “Wow, how are they doin’ that?” I’d have two 2-inch tapes locked-up with 48 tracks runnin’, and the first whole reel would be nothing but drums. I didn’t know how to make records, I was just doin’ it. I remember them comin’ in like “Oh shit! That’s how you do it? I never saw nothin’ like that!” It just bugged them out.
Were you one of the first people to filter basslines? Like on “Not Gonna Be Able To Do It”?
I was one of the first. That guy Nap that I was tellin’ you about, me and him were messin’ around on my keyboard one day and we found out how to filter totally by accident! I had a Casio FZ-1, and the filter on that keyboard was so good, I could take any record and it would sound like a bassline. Boom! It was like instant bassline. I started getting known for having basslines back then. I was one of the first people to do the [imitates a horn echo] echos. For me, coming up in the eighties, back then people just called it “rap crap”. “Oh this is just a trend, it’ll be gone next week. It’s over!” I almost slapped a million people, ‘cause I was a skateboarder too. That was the bugged-out thing. Now you see skateboarding in videos, Pharrell wears skateboarder clothes and shit. In the eighties, people thought I was a nut. It’s funny, because the White Boys did this video… we did this sponsorship with Converse sneakers back then, and I was in Thrasher magazine, all the skateboard magazines and shit – skateboarding! As a rapper! In fuckin’ ’86, ’85. Now, there’s the X-Games – back then there was none of that shit. Converse paid for us to do a video thing, and when we did that I called up all the top skaters. Everybody. Literally, the Tony Hawk‘s… Steve Cavellero, Hasoi, all the fuckin’ guys that were the top skateboarders back then, and still are! I got ‘em all to come down and be in the video.
That’s the only thing that stresses me about hip-hop, is that young people are really being defined by the music and by the culture – but there is no culture no more. There is no direction. In every culture you have your elders, the people that make sure that everybody’s on their right path, make sure everybody’s together – make sure if there’s a problem people are workin’ it out. Now it’s just image and manipulation. It’s pushing kids to be more violent, to be more materialistic. Back in the days when we were about gold chains and four-finger rings, my whole world wasn’t the gold chain and the four-finger ring, that was part of our crown that we wore. That was just a demonstration. But today, it’s almost like the music’s gotten so powerful that it’s over-whelming young people’s personalities, where the music is so fuckin’ dominant that the kids start being over-whelmed by the image to the point where they feel like if they’re not the image, then they’re not shit.
Like they’re a sucker.
Everything that really happens has to do with the people behind it. I’ve even said that about Puffy. Puffy would show-up at the clubs and he would be all decked-out, so he was using image to control the thoughts of other people – through his imagery. I respected him for that ’cause that’s part of the game. I did the same thing when I was comin’ up, I would walk into the club with a bunch of jewelery on and everybody would check me out. But then when he got into hip-hop, he knew that science to such a degree that he over-whelmed all of hip-hop. One of the reasons I left New York was cause when I heard Buckwild tryin’ to do Puffy beats, I said “Oh shit. Right now I can’t even respect New York. I can’t fuckin’ deal with this bullshit”. I moved to New York ’cause I wanted to be involved in what I was seeing that was so revolutionary and so different. But by the mid-’90’s, New York was just a fuckin’ robotic clone factory. I kept looking at everybody like “Damn!” Everybody’s balls got cut off. I used to feel like I need to pull my pants down just to let my balls sag all the way to the fuckin’ concrete, ’cause y’all a bunch of fuckin’ pussies! It just got to the point where New York had no heart. New York sold out! Puffy didn’t sell-out, Puffy did Puffy. Puffy did it to such a powerful degree that he overwhelmed the whole fuckin’ city!
And they all just followed like sheep?
They didn’t know what to do! That’s when I actually decided to leave New York… do you know a lot of the records I’ve done in the past?
I wanted to ask you about the Percee P record. “Lung Collapsing Lyrics” was amazing when that came out, but then nothing really happened with his career for years.
It’s funny because that record has given him a continued career, in a way. People really rediscovered that record. He was lyrical like a motherfucker back then, and he still is. He hasn’t changed one bit! Percee P is the same today as he was back then. I think what happened back then for him was that Big Beat started selling bigger and bigger records, unfortunately he didn’t get in the right movement, it didn’t move forward for him in that way. We recorded a bunch of stuff at that time. With “Lung Collapsing Lyrics”, Percee was like “I wanna rock one of these up-tempo beats”. We were listening to some James Brown and he was like “I wanna use that shit right there, T!” and I was like “I’ll hook that up in a heartbeat, let’s go. Let’s not even put a chorus on it. This is just gonna be rhymin’. This is not a hit record, this is not for the radio, this is just you rhymin’ the whole way”. He used parts of one of his classic rhymes and some new shit he had, and we just threw that shit together. Same thing – Power Play Studios, man, in Long Island City, New York. That studio was classic. I keep bigging that place up, because when I got to New York, that’s where I got my start, really. I would go from Brooklyn all the way to fuckin’ Long Island City to go to that studio. That’s how he got his start, with that. He had done one other record before called “Let The Homicides Begin”.
He was down with Finesse, remember he was on that second album?
Oh yeah, Percee goes way back. They grew-up in the same projects and all that. Percee is like a time capsule, man. Percee is another guy that has always been down with hip-hop since the beginning. He grew-up in the heart of it, so it was just a part of who he was. If you meet Percee today, that’s how Percee was in the 90s – that’s how Percee was in the 80s! He’s just a great example of someone who’s always remained true to himself, and always remained true to hip-hop. Even in his darkest days, he would be out selling mixtapes and getting on people’s shit. It didn’t matter. Now that Stones Throw is backing him, it’s a really good thing. I had found some of the old shit that’d we’d done, and we was thinking about putting it out there, but I think we’re gonna wait ‘till he puts out his new shit first. I got a bunch of old Perecce shit, old JVC Force, Double XX Posse, Artifacts, shit nobody ever heard.
AJ Rock was saying that they did a whole album for Big Beat that never came out.
I know, check it out! I started spreading the word to everybody about that album, because it does exist . I want somebody to make sure they get that out. I would put it out but I don’t have all the masters. Here’s the sad thing. Power Play called me up, I was out here so I couldn’t make it in time – some guys I knew that had bought Power Play, they called me up and they were like “We gotta clean out all the old tapes, ‘cause we only got this one tape closet for the whole studio and it’s full of tapes. We just saw about twenty in here with your name on it!” I was like “Damn man, I gotta get those! How can I do this?” And I called up Percee, ‘cause they had some Percee-P tapes in there, with maybe seven or eight songs that had never come out, on two-inch reels. So I called Percee: “Yo, pick ‘em up”. Percee didn’t go do it, and it’s my understanding that all of those got thrown in the garbage, including the original tapes of the Kenny Dope record with all that shit separated, versions we didn’t use and shit. What I’m scared of is that potentially that whole JVC Force album got thrown away, unless there are copies he has.
Last but not least, Part 3 covers Big L, Kool G Rap, Nas, Cypress Hill and more.
Artifacts - “Flexi Wit Da Tech(nique)”
Percee-P & Ekim - “Puttin’ Heads To Bed”
Percee-P & Ekim - “Lung Collapsing Lyrics”
Double XX Posse - “Not Be Gonna Be Able To Do It”
Artifacts “Wrong Side of the Tracks” video:
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