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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Courtesy of Elemental Mag via SLurg
The final chapter…of course I’ve saved the best ’till last. T-Ray covers working with Big L, Nas, Cypress Hill and Milano, and fires back at Mike Heron.
Robbie: Then you did “Yes, You May (Remix)” and all that stuff with Finesse.
T-Ray: Yep, and that was Big L‘s first time in the studio you know. What happened is that I had another beat that Finesse wanted me to loop up for him. I didn’t like the way the beat he wanted sounded. I had brought a bunch of records with me, and I said “Yo Finesse, I got somethin’ right here man. I’m actually thinking about hookin’ it up, it’s supposed to be for Biz but if you want it I’ll give it to you for this, ’cause it would work perfectly for this”. So basically, I hooked-up the beat right there in the studio. That final is not even a final, what people hear on that record – that was just a rough mix! I made that beat in about 30 minutes in the studio. Finesse went through his book of rhymes to figure out what rhyme he was droppin’, and Big L came in and I said “Yo, kick me what rhyme you wanna do”, and it was his first time in the studio so he was really green, he was new, and he kicked me his rhyme and it was like “Oh, this is great!” Percee was actually supposed to come down and be on that, but he didn’t end-up makin’ it.
Since he was on the LP version.
Yeah, I was tryin’ to get him on it with them, and basically that’s how it came about. I just threw that beat together, that’s why in the chorus when it goes to the [does the horn part] there’ nothin’ on it! I intended to throw some more shit on top of that, but Finesse had a deadline that he didn’t tell me about. So he just ended up sending it to his A&R or whatever and they just pressed it up and put it out! And later everybody was like “Yo, this is a classic!” and everybody was freestylin’ on it – like any radio show you’d turn on, they were freestylin’ on that instrumental.
It was so raw, it was great.
Yeah. What you hear on that record is what it sounded like after an afternoon in the studio – and that’s the rough mix. I keep a picture of Big L on my mixing board every day. He called me and he wanted me to bring him some beats – this was long after the first record and shit – and he lived way uptown. I had a brand new Land Cruiser at the time – and I had my family with me – now listen to this, this is still me, still that naïve country boy. I took my whole family with me, my wife and my two little kids – a little boy and a little girl. Now they’re in the backseat in car seats, I drive up to fuckin’ meet L in front of his buildin’ -
Was it 139th and Lennox?
There you go, exactly. I go outside his building, call him up and his mom answers. He comes running down, I’ll never forget, he had a big fluffy coat on – I think it was red – he leaned into my window, we kicked it for a minute and it was just like “Yo, thanks for coming out T!” He couldn’t have been more cool, this man could not have been as innocent, as happy… it was just a moment of us talking about beats, rhymes. No gangster, killer, fuckin’ drug dealer shit! I mean in his rhymes he always talks a lotta shit, I’m just saying though – at that moment the essence of who he was, was just a young man who loved rhyming, who loved beats, lived in not the best area – but not the worst, either. I give him the cassette, I pull off – I don’t get two blocks down and two or three undercover cop cars pull me over, forcing me off the road! Not only forcing me off the road, but four or five cops get out with their guns drawn, pointed right at my head.
With your kids in the car? Damn!
My kids are in the backseat, my wife is next to me, and they’ve got guns pointed at my wife from her side, pointed at my head! These guns are loaded, man! This isn’t no fuckin’ TV show! You know what they said to me? “What are you doing here?!” I was like “What am I doing here?! What the fuck are you doing with this gun pointed at me? I’m a producer, that’s a rapper, we’re talking music – what the fuck are you doing?” Then I roll down the backseat and I’m like “Can you lower your guns so my children don’t have to deal with this?” Then they said “Just last week, seven people were shot right on that block! That kid that you were talking to is a known cocaine dealer!” I’m like “Man, will you shut up! That is Big L! We’re trying to become famous!” Just what you hear him rapping about. I forget the name of the song, I just put it on this new mixtape that I’m working on, it’s him with Fat Joe…
Yes! He’s rhyming about how these Federals won’t get off his back – that is the fucking truth! I never really got the full low-down on why he got killed, but those cops and all that fake bullshit that’s going on in the world – that had a lot to do with it. There was no reason for that man to die. That’s what I keep trying to get out, ’cause I normally don’t even talk to people about anything. People gotta wake-up to this shit. Just like how Puffy can develop an image and you’ll think “He’s a star” because he portrays it like that, if the cops start thinking of you as a criminal, it’s the same. Neither one of them is the truth, but it depends on what their perception of you is.
That’s how they treat you.
The sad thing in this country is that the stereotypes are still getting fucked-up, and hip-hop is being a part of continuing those stereotypes. Like L, he was rhymin’ about real-life shit, ’cause I experienced it with him! When I left, they pulled me over! They had guns to my head! If he had that happening to him every day… off that one incident – I was ready to kill somebody. So if someone did that to me everyday – forget it! Another kid I used to always deal with, who never got out, was AJ Domain. I’m telling you, that kid got beat-up every other day by the cops. I couldn’t believe it. I was on the phone with him, at times, when cops would just jump him, man. On the phone with him!
Hostyle from Screwball lost an eye thanks to the cops over there. Which reminds me, I interviewed Mike Heron a while back. I take it you guys didn’t really get along?
Mike is just a dick. Mike thinks he knows something more than anybody. Jerry’s a great guy, and Jerry’s real. He’s sincere, he’s been always puttin’ out records so you can’t question him, he’s for real. He’s really connected to the streets, he really knows the artists, he’s a real independent label. Mike… and again I can only go by what I experienced with Mike, but I’ll tell you real quick. I got a label deal through Warner Brothers that could’ve opened the door to hundreds of hip-hop artists. DJs, rappers, producers, up-and-coming executives… so many opportunities were there for us. Warner Brothers were opening the doors fully to me, and the first artists I tried to sign – but we couldn’t get our deal done in time – was Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Planet Asia. I wanted to lock-down the LA underground hip-hop scene and help that turn into a full scene. I wasn’t able to get those done because my deal with Warners wasn’t done yet, and they ended up signing [elsewhere] before I could get ‘em. So I signed Milano, I signed him off hearing him on a cassette, I didn’t even see him or nothin’. I heard one verse, and signed him.
The next person that I thought of after that – well actually, before that – was V.I.C. Now Vic I had known goin’ all the way back to The Beatnuts. I was down with The Beatnuts the day they decided they were gonna start rhymin’. They just made beats. I remember Les lookin’ at me and sayin’ “Yo T, this shit ain’t nothin’, man. You need to rhyme with us”, and Vic complaining ‘cause the Beatnuts weren’t showing him enough light or some shit. When I went to Vic’s house, he was living with his moms, his room was down in the basement. He had a decent mixing board, and he really knew how to get things to sound really good, but was mainly doing dance stuff and shit like that. He was into hip-hop and he’d tried to do some independent label type shit, but he wasn’t really a beat person. So I walk in – and you’ve gotta remember, I’m going in there as somebody who had damn near ten years in the game, and that was in the early nineties. Probably ’92. We’ve been talkin’ about beats and all that, and I walk in his apartment, and he had one crate, and there was about ten records in it. I said “Yo, where are all your records, man. Where are your beats?” He said “That’s them right there.” I’m tellin’ you the fuckin’ truth! When I got done with Vic, people were looking at him like he was one of the beat guys, because we rolled to every convention, we went down to Virginia looking for beats, everywhere we’d go. I would be looking through crates or through bins right next to him. “Yo Vic, you got this?” “No, I ain’t got that one” “Yo, that’s got a beat on it.” When I got the label, I thought of Vic, ‘cause I knew Vic had always wanted to be known, other than the underground. I didn’t look to “who’s the next star who’s I can put some gold on, and next thing I know he’s gonna be somebody”, I went to somebody who didn’t have shit! He didn’t have no money, still living in the basement of his mother’s house, still don’t have no fuckin’ records like me, but I love the way he hooks-up beats. I love Vic’s beats, and I always have, and I always respected him because I like his taste. But the truth is truth. When I met him, I put the fuckin’ heart of the beat science in his brain, and when I fuckin’ got on with the label I called up Vic. He’s like “I’m probably gonna put out this 12”” I’m like “Fuck a 12”, man. You know what? I’ma give you a fuckin’ budget.” I gave this motherfucker a half-million dollars. You listen to those numbers. I didn’t give him fuckin’ 5,000 do the typical shit, I gave this motherfucker half-a-million dollars. I told him “All I need you to do is do the record you’ve always dreamed of, Vic”. You know what that motherfucker did? He panicked! Now he couldn’t talk about it, he had to do it! The motherfucker took two years, and didn’t have shit done!
Originally, the concept was we were gonna take the name Ghetto Pros and turn that into a production team. He was talking about bringing in No I.D., which I loved, but then after a minute VIC was like “No, fuck No I.D., I don’t want him there.” I brought in Al – Alchemist. I had produced Alchemist back when he was in The Whooliganz! You ask Alchemist, he’ll tell you, man. He’s always said it: “T-Ray’s one of my inspirations”, because when he was a rapper I told him he could be a producer. When he was a little 14 year-old kid, rappin’. When he decided he wanted to be a producer, he moved to New York and I hooked him up with everybody I knew, and I told him exactly what he needed to do. He had not broken yet, and I told Vic “Yo, Alchemist needs to be one of the Ghetto Pros”, and he was on some hatin’ him shit “Nah, fuck Al!” You see what I’m sayin? Vic wanted it to be what he wanted it to be, but Vic couldn’t get it done. Finally, after about two years, I started yelling at him every day “What the fuck? You gotta get this shit together! Damn, I gave you what you wanted in life and it’s just like you’re sitting on it. You shoulda had this record done in two months, fuck two years!” He started getting so down about the fact that I was giving him a hard time about it, that he decides to join with Mike… as though Mike was gonna come in and save the day or somethin’. But what Mike did is he started calling me up, yelling at me! And I already told you how I am, I couldn’t give a fuck about somebody yelling. I’ll stab you in the fuckin’ heart! I’ll fuckin’ cut your whole fuckin’ head off! So I just told him “Fuck you! Who the fuck are you calling? I gave this motherfucker half a million dollars, it’s two years later and I only have about three fuckin’ songs! Fuck you! Do you know how to make a beat?! If you know how to make a beat, go to a fuckin’ studio! Fuckin’ make some music you lil’ bitch! Don’t talk your bullshit to me!” He was working at Rawkus – that’s why he thought he was somebody, ’cause daddy’s rich money from somebody else was payin’ your fuckin’ bill, and you feel powerful because you’re around some wimpy white motherfuckers that you can yell at all day, and you think ‘cause I’m fuckin’ rich now in Malibu, and I’m white and country, that you can talk to me? Bitch, I’ll fuckin’ knock your teeth down your fuckin’ throat! I’ll cut you a new asshole! What the fuck are you talking about?! I let him fuckin’ have it, and the motherfucker never fuckin’ stopped. He fuckin’ ‘caused so much havoc, and never fuckin’ made a fuckin’ beat! He couldn’t even get it done! [begins yelling] It got to the point where I had to fly Vic out, give him the fuckin’ loops, loop it for him, tell him the fuckin’ concept, have my fuckin’ musican guys to come in and play guitar and keyboards on his shit so it would be more musical… I gave him a whole style! Actually, the style that I helped create for him – that’s his style now! But the thing that really frustrates me about these guys, is that in the course of their bullshit, they caused me to lose my fuckin’ deal with Warner Brothers. Mike was just a fuckin’ hot-head who wanted to run his mouth. After the fact, you know what he did? He went and bootlegged the shit, and fucked me more! The real deal is – Mike Heron is a bitch who, next time I see him, is gonna get knocked the fuck out!
So how did you get from producing underground hip-hop records to making deals in Malibu?
MC Serch tried to claim a lot of times that he found Nas or some shit. For instance, Big L – I produced his first appearance, but Finesse really had Big L. It was Finesse’s session and Big L was coming down, so I ended up producing his first session because I was doing the track, but it wasn’t like I discovered Big L. I didn’t discover Nas! He had just come out on “Live At The BBQ”, but when I was producing MC Serch I was doing a song called “Back To The Grill Again”. It was just MC Serch with Chubb Rock, and the track was just so fuckin’ happy – at that time, happy tracks were kinda cool, but that track was really happy – and I liked more darker tracks, but Serch wanted to use that track so I was cool with it. But then when I heard Serch and Chubb Rock I said “Damn, both of these guys kinda have passed their prime, so I need some new blood on here. Someone who’s more street.” So I called up every unknown MC at the time, including Percee-P, including Nas, including Akinyele and a few others, like maybe four or five others. The original version of “Back To The Grill Again” had maybe eight rappers on it. I told ‘em “Whoever does the best is gonna get on the record”. So we did a whole version with Akinyele and everybody on it, and Nas just destroyed it! So Nas, in a sense, won the position and he got on the record. It was literally a recording battle. When we got done, I went in the booth with Nas and I said “Yo Nas, I gotta get on your record”, and he didn’t have a deal. So I went in the next room and I was like “Yo Serch, we gotta call some people, man! This kid right here – this is the future.” And he was like “You think?” I’ll never forget it, because he just did not get how powerful Nas was. He was a rapper and he just didn’t get it! Sometimes rappers compete with each other anyway, so maybe that’s what it was. He didn’t open himself to see Nas’ true talent, so I called up Faith Newman at Columbia Records, I said “Yo, I got Nas in the studio, he just killed a verse on the Serch record, you basically need to sign this kid.” And she’s like “Oh, I’ve heard of him! I really want to link up with him”, and fuckin’ MC Serch went behind my back and did a production deal with him. So that’s how Serch hooked-up with Nas. Serch never knew Nas, he didn’t know “Live At The BBQ”! He didn’t even recognise after the fact that Nas was that great. What he recognised, was that once Faith Newman wanted to sign him, that there was money to be made. He did a production deal with Nas and claimed that he got the record deal, when I was the one that called-up Faith and hyped her and told her “This is it!” I just didn’t know about the business at that time. It was because of moments like that. I produced G Rap back in the day, “Take ‘Em To War” and all that.
Of course, I forgot about that.
That’s the first time people saw B-1 and those guys, and Grimm was rhymin’ on it after he’d been shot. G Rap is the realest. I’ve never met nobody more real than G Rap. You know what? Nas, Pun, Raekwon, all of them owe their styles to him. All of them! He’s like the Muddy Waters of hip-hop.
Definitely, I agree with that.
I’ll tell you something I did for G Rap back in the day – I think Stretch Armstrong actually bootlegged it – there was one called…it later got called “Hey Mr Mr”, but it was originally called “Don’t Interrupt Me When I’m Whippin’ On My Bitch’s Ass”.
He’s talking some real ignorant stuff on there. That’s a great record.
When I was doing that for him, I was like “G, nobody wants to hear about you beating on some girl’s ass! We need ‘Men At Work Part 2′!” Right? That song didn’t even make it on his Triple XXX album. I think that’s one of the most violent records ever.
So I got down with Muggs for a minute, and things didn’t work – see, I never really understood the business. This business is a real rip-off. Sometimes people are ripping you off, and in the business they say “Oh, that’s normal” [laughs], “Oh, they’re supposed to take your credit”, shit like that. A little bit of that was going on in the Soul Assassins camp, and I didn’t feel that. I was from the days of “what you do is who you are”, and if somebody takes credit for what you do then they’re bitin’ or robbing you.
Alchemist was talking about that recently.
For me just to get my proper credit on “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That”, I had to give ‘em the beat for “When The Shit Goes Down”, and I had to give ‘em the beat and the bassline for “Insane In The Brain”. I didn’t get no credit for any of that, but I didn’t care, because I was a fan. But then he took half my publishing on the song, so I was like “Fuck!” But that’s neither here nor there, that type of shit goes on in the game. What you kinda learn, is that in the beginning when they were ripping people off, is that every person that’s coming up in the game has to get ripped off. It’s almost like an initiation to the fuckin’ game. Then you learn the rules of the game, and it’s a cut-throat, snaky business.
All the rock records I was doing, they were mainly out in California, so I just said “Fuck it, I’m gonna move to California, see what that’s about”. It was sad to leave New York, and to feel like New York had fallen off, at least for then. I feel like New York is coming back, but it was really dead at that time. So I flew my whole family across the country, moved to the top of a mountain out here in Malibu. All the way to the fuckin’ top, on some Moses shit. I mean twenty minutes, straight up a mountain. No neighbours or nothin’, just rattlesnakes, coyotes and nature.
That sounds good. So were these projects paying more than the hip-hop stuff you’d worked on?
No, they was probably about the same, sometimes even less, but the hip-hop opportunities were just all fake. The difference was, I can go in the studio with some pop/hip-hop thing, with some rapper who really doesn’t know how to write ‘cause so-and-so’s writing his rhymes for him, and be in this fake environment with A&R’s telling you “We need a club banger” – or I could be in the studio with these hard rock guys, who got the same mentality as Kool G Rap. Up drinking vodka ‘till fuckin’ morning, doin’ drugs all day, fuckin’ shootin’ guns, beatin’ the fuck outta people… mainly because they’re so fuckin’ hurt by the world. One of the guys was the son of a preacher. He had God and the devil at war, 24 hours a day. It was like watching Armageddon walking around.
I’m the same underground guy in rock that I am in hip-hop. Ozomatli, I produced their first album, with Cut Chemist as the DJ and Chali 2Na as the rapper. Imagine if you had the Incredible Bongo Band today? That’s how I felt when I met them. This is when I was not really feeling hip-hop, so I was trying to stick to my roots, and I said “Yo, I wanna make a record that feels like those records, like the soul bands or the soul/funk/rock bands that had percussion and guitars, Sly and The Family Stone type of shit. That’s what I did with Ozomatli, I did that on their first album, and that was a big, big record. Right after that I produced Santana, and Ozomatli was his favourite band. I had Clive Davis call me up with Carlos, like “You’ve got to do this for us”. I went in – killed it – got to be a part of that album that sold like 30 million albums.
OK, now I see why you’ve got your own tennis court!
Exactly. I got a Grammy off of that. Then, all of a sudden, Warner’s looked at my whole history, from hip-hop to rock to all this, and they just said “T-Ray, you need a label!” Of course I said yes. So that’s how I got to that position of getting a label, is from doing all forms of music, keeping it hip-hop no matter what I did, and being really true to what it is I am. So that’s why there was big lapse in my career actually, is ’cause I was dealing with Mike and Vic for a couple of years, having to babysit them on a daily basis.
So you’re back to square one.
The only good news about it is that right now, Beatdown Recordings is more focussed, more real – we don’t have the same kind of money backing us as we did, so it’s gotta be more street, more hard. It’s gonna take us a minute, but what we’re about to do is we’re gonna just bring hip-hop back where it’s supposed to be. I’m working on a real bugged-out side-project with Ill Bill and that whole family. I’m actually producing a record with Bill and a few other people. It’s gonna be all my production, and it’s gonna be way the fuck out. [laughs] This is gonna be some next level hip-hop being born again. This is Public Enemy – but not that style – that kinda energy coming back. I just recently won another Grammy for Ozomatli’s new album that I did. Other than that, I‘m working on new Milano shit, because when they fucked-up the deal, Milano’s deal got fucked up. That’s why he went from having a moment where he was about to break – to just disappearing. Milano’s actually goin’ in with Showbiz, working on some new shit with Show, so we got that whole relationship back together.
Lord Finesse feat. Big L - Yes, You May (Remix)
MC Serch feat. Chubb Rock, Nasty Nas & Red Hot Lover Tone - Back To The Grill Again
Cypress Hill - I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That
Cypress Hill - Hits From The Bong (Remix)
Milano - “That’s Milano”
Kool G Rap - “Hey Mr. Mr.”
Kool G Rap feat. MF Grimm & B-1 - “Take ‘Em To War”
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