Filed under: Interviews,Steady Bootleggin',Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
A year-and-a-half ago I caught-up with The Skinny Boys from CT to discuss the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of the music business.
Robbie: How long were you performing together prior to the Weightless album?
Superman Jay: We’ve been together since 1981. We would rock shows with a guy named Arthur Armstrong from ’80 to ’85, when we actually got our deal rolling.
Jockbox: We were already doing shows and established before we even got signed, doing local shows and shows down South – just all over, just performing and putting our name out there. Promoting ourselves and whatnot.
Was that the same line-up back then?
SJ: Actually, the original Skinny Boys were me – Superman Jay, Jockbox – Jock Harrison, my brother Shaun Harrison and another guy named Robert Durett, who we called ELD. So there was actually four. Then Durett had end-up leaving – he left because of personal issues like management, mainly.
When you recorded the album, were you just using a drum machine and turntables?
SJ: I would say the “Jockbox”, the record “Ill” on the Weighless album, “Get Funky”…the two human beat-box records and “Ill” were actually written by us way before we even met our management – Mark and Rhonda Bush. If you look on most of the records, it has on there “Written by Rhonda Bush” and “Produced by Mark Bush” and that’s not true, because [on] all of our stuff we did our own production other than the help of Chuck Chillout and Flavor Flav. We always wrote our own stuff, and that’s to set the record straight. Me, Shawn and Jock always wrote our own stuff and always produced our own stuff.
I always suspected that it was some shady paperwork when I read those credits.
SJ: It’s one of them things like that, because even when we had to go to court behind it, when you look at things like the master tapes – you see three black lines going through our names and then you had their names over top of ours. Written over! I hate to harp on it, but it was a nightmare to go through.
J: Behind all the great performances that we did…not to be braggadoctious, because there’s a lotta greats out there in hip-hop, but I feel that we put a good show on, we made great records and we stayed true to our fan-base. It was just a fact of management breaking things down. We could have been probably one of the greatest of all time, but that’s what happens with money situations and things like that. That’s the bottom line to it.
That first album is considered a classic though.
SJ: We appreciate that. As a matter of fact, that’s what we tried to do. We tried to stay original, because even then, people were sampling and doin’ old beats over. We tried to stay original just to create our own niche, our own following, because we thought that was important. Not only that, we had all the elements – I played instruments, my brother plays instruments, Jock was a human beat-box/rapper, and we all wrote and always had ideas for production – so all that came into play. To us, it was a perfect team that was built.
J: Exactly, and I feel that our group did not reach our full potential. We were just getting started! Some people probably wouldn’t like us, because everybody doesn’t like you, but for those that did? We were just getting started, and they were in for a treat. But it was management that broke it down.
How did “Rip The Cut” come about? The sound on that is brutal.
SJ: When I was creating the beat I was trying to think of an element – almost like the “Big Beat” Billy Squires type of style – but with our own beat, own sound to it, and then scratch the rock ‘n roll joint from KISS over the top of that. We just wanted to use something…not so much the same thing as everybody else was doing, just to be different.
J: Go against the grain a little bit. That definitely worked.
Jockbox – were you the main beat-box in your area?
J: It was a lotta competition. I would actually battle other beat-boxes. There was a group from the Bronx called The Heartbeat Brothers – they had the Heartbeat Box! I had to smash him. Around my way it was fierce competition, it made me step-up to the plate, and I liked that! I think that’s what made me stand-out, too. A lotta people felt that they had that – that’s great, but you gotta showcase that on stage, on record, you’ve gotta step it up, and a lotta people couldn’t do that, and I could, so that’s why I think I stood out.
SJ: Take nothing away from other human beat-boxes like Buffy, Doug Fresh – I just feel like Jock is right there with the best of ‘em. I remember when we played Brooklyn, Brooklyn showed us love and it was Doug E. Fresh that told us to “Go out there, do your thing. I heard you rock before – do your thing!” So that was big to us.
J: That’s a lotta inspiration right there from Doug Fresh. I also wanna mention Rahzel and my man Ready Rock C that was down with Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, ’cause they were label-mates with us at Jive/RCA. I think Ready Rock C was nasty too, so I give love and credit where it’s due. I feel amazed that I’m being recognized as a legend or whatever. It just feels great to be recognized.
SJ: Even back in the days, coming up in the eighties…I was in it before them. I was in it about three years before Shaun and Jock had came into it. Me and my man Pete had pulled my cousin Jock and Shaun into the group…
J: We got the hip-hop bug!
SJ: We played with everybody – the Coldcrush Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, the Fat Boys when they were the Disco 3, all the way up to Run-DMC! It goes further than that. So we played with all the greats and toured with a lot of greats.
Were you guys always the Skinny Boys? Or was that a reaction to the Fat Boys’ name?
SJ: We were the Superior Crush MC’s…
J: That was our real first name, and we did routines and stuff which we do now. The thing is, Fat Boys had that name but it wasn’t like a copycat thing or nothing like that. It wasn’t a novelty act because we didn’t reach our full potential because of management! But Fat Boys? They rocked. Them kids were heavyweight.
After the Warlock album, how did the deal with Jive come about?
SJ: Actually the deal with Jive came about as we was on Warlock. We was getting ready to record our second album, we was all set for it! We had stuff pre-written and everything else…
J: …it was a pretty smooth transition, actually, from Warlock to Jive/RCA. We were stunned!
SJ: Take nothing away from Jive/RCA – we love our old labels – but we really didn’t want to leave Warlock at all, because Adam Levy was the one who took notice to us, started us out and gave us our shot. Adam’s the son of Maurice Levy, who owned a lotta great groups like Gladys Knight and the Pips – Buddah Records, Black Ivory, all these groups that were out, so when Adam took notice to us-
J: -that was flattery. Are you kidding me? This guy wants to take us out? Lets do it!
SJ: We were on our way to going Gold before we went to Jive. When we asked him why he didn’t let the record sell, he said: “Your management, Mark and Rhonda, took y’all from under my nose so quickly that I felt like I’m not gonna make you larger-than-life just for someone else to take the credit, like Jive/RCA”. This wasn’t a beef between them two labels – I think it was more or less a thing that Mark and Rhonda started-up, and they looked at money ahead of “Look, this is where we’re concrete at. Money’s gonna come”
So they were chasing a quick buck?
J: Exactly, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. That’s what it all boils down to.
SJ: I think when you look at anything – I don’t care if it’s your regular nine-to-five that you work – we take this to heart. If you’re doing it, you’ve gotta have love for it before money comes into play. We have love, and always had love, for hip-hop. Rap music right now – and has been for a long time – is the biggest thing to happen to music, but I think that there has to be some straightening out with the precautionary measures that are taken. The wording…you know how some rappers are? Not to take nothing away from ‘em – there’s a lotta greats out there right now – but some of ‘em need to watch what they say. We like to take on the roll of “Look, if I can’t play it in front of my kids, in front of my moms, then I’m not gonna say something in front of millions of people to hear and be ashamed of it! I don’t wanna have to turn my music down.
J: Don’t get me wrong – it ain’t gonna be no popcorn music. The music that’s coming from us now is from emotion. It’s from the heart, it’s real. It’s not “Get the album done” because the label said “Let’s hurry-up and get this album done!” The thing is, we don’t want nobody to feel bad or nothing for us. We’re gonna bounce back strong, their gonna love it, because hip-hop is real heavy now, and I love that. When we were doing it, hip-hop wasn’t the way it is now. There’s Grammy’s being given it – it’s big time. Now the game done changed, so we changed with the game and I love that.
It’s almost like the whole culture has been removed and replaced with just the business.
J: Exactly. It’s just ridiculous, insane nonsense rap. Some people like that! There’s gonna be some songs on our CD that are gonna be rough, but they’re not gonna be no ignorant lyrics! It’s geared to reality. There’s ridiculous stuff being made now, and it’s so sad because hip-hop was really beautiful in our era. It was so pure. We stayed professional throughout our hard times and our hardships in this industry. We performed well for the fans. We always treat the fans with cordial respect, and it was mutual. That’s one thing I would love to take with me, if we never make another song again.
You said you used to work with Chuck Chillout. He used to play a lot of your records on his KISS-FM show in the 80’s, so I assume you guys had a good relationship?
SJ: Chuck Chillout is family to us. Let me give respect to those who was with us from the beginning – Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl. They were playing our stuff from the very, very beginning, but Chuck took us on as his pet group, and he played us and played us. Same way it us right now – you may not like everything that you hear on the radio, but if you hear it enough you’ll love it. Chuck made people love us, and not because of the fact that he was getting money for it. He did this from his heart!
It would have been rough back then – if you weren’t from the Bronx or Brooklyn, people weren’t trying to hear you.
J: Right. In New York and New Jersey, sometimes there was that riff that Connecticut isn’t part of the Tri-State really, but with us it was always love. We go out there to perform in Co-Op City in the Bronx, on Gun Hill road in the Bronx, out there in Brooklyn they showed us so much love. We was out there in Coney Island with Public Enemy, it don’t matter or nothing. Club Zanzibar out there in New Jersey, The Rooftop – we rocked with Salt ‘N Pepa back in the day, Biz Markie, tearing the house down.
I saw a clip of you guys performing with Schoolly D, Steady B and KRS-One as well.
SJ: That was actually supposed to be a battle of New York Vs Philly. It’s amazing that you said that, because once again it goes back to people thinking we were from New York. That night…I must say, we tore that house down! We ripped The Spectrum down.
J: That was one of the big shows that we did, starting out. It’s hard to go to somebody else’s place and perform well. It’s like sports – it’s hard to go to somebody else’s arena and win that game. That show was incredible, I can’t believe you remember that show!
SJ: Big-ups to all our label mates, man. Jazzy Jeff, Fresh Prince. Schoolly-D. Definitely Steady B and Cool C, cause I know they goin’ through some rough times right now. I don’t know if they’re gonna be able to see this interview, but y’all keep your heads up fellas. Everything good comes outta something. Everything. We’ve never forgotten about ‘em, because that Jive base was a family. Kool Moe Dee…everybody.
J:...KRS-One…that was a nice camp we had there, it really was.
SJ: A Tribe Called Quest…Samantha Fox! It was deep.
J: I see Q-Tip every once in a while. That’s nice, because we keep those ties for ever. Once the music is gone and turned off, you’ve still got those relationships with people, and that’s what’s important to me. I don’t care about how many cars you got, your jewels. We still friends, man? We boys? That’s all that’s important, man. “How’s your wife and kids?” That type of thing.
Shockin Shaun: It’s Shockin Shaun here too, my brother.
How ya doin? So did you guys see the re-issue of your first CD? Were you involved in that at all?
SJ: Not at all, that’s news to us. Matter of fact, I just found out a month ago that the Weightless album was on iTunes! Even though we probably will never get a dime off of it, it’s flattering to know that someone still thinks enough of us to put our old music back out there.
J: I’m honored, as a matter-of-fact. We haven’t done music for so long, and that’s what hurts. It gives people the perception that “Oh, they’re wack! They ain’t got no stuff!” and that’s not true.
“Crimes of the City” had a heavy metal feel. How did that come about?
SJ: Big up to Jon Fernandez and John Jackman who played the guitars on that, man. “Cries of the City” was the cries of the inner-city kids, the inner-city people. When you listen to the lyrics… [breaks into a verse from the song with Jockbox]
On the third album you did a song with Wee Papa Girl Rappers?
SS: That project that we did with them, we made somewhat of a cross-over from the States to EU.
J: They was amazed to even be in America. They couldn’t even believe that they were on Jive – they were in awe. That was fun to see, because back in the days, rappers were eager to do the music. It was for the love of it. Nowadays, it’s just for the check.
SS: We can remember that day like yesterday. They had no lyrics or anything. Me, Jim and Jock just sat down and wrote they lyrics and everything.
SJ: It was actually Shaun and Jock that wrote their lyrics for them. I was basically just working out on the beat. Everything just came in. Even though it wasn’t them that wrote the song, they fell-in like those were their lyrics.
SS: Like they wrote ‘em. And wherever they fell short at, we corrected them and told them that they fell short on this bar and that they had to come up to par with it. Everything that we wanted them to do, they did it.
SJ: That was something that made us even better as a group, because we helped bring somebody else….I think whenever you can lend a helping hand to someone, in anything you do in life, that’s a good thing. I know it’s been a long, long time since we seen or heard from them, but I’m sure they appreciate what we done for ‘em.
After the third album, how long were still performing for?
SJ: We still performed, but was just here and there because we were going into litigation. That was a low point in our career. Imagine going everywhere through-out the world, but at the end of the day, the amount of money we were making, we actually weren’t seeing a dime of it.
As far as royalties?
SJ: Even show money – we weren’t getting all of our show money. But we were still performing out of the love that we had for the game. A lot of people would have given up if they were in our predicament. The lawyers told us that it was worse than New Edition. With all this money being made, we were still walking – but management was always driving and living lovely. They’ve never written or produced any of our stuff – me, Shawn and Jock always wrote and produced everything.
The Skinny Boys – “Awesome”
The Skinny Boys – “Rip The Cut”
The Skinny Boys – “Skinny – Can’t Get Enough” video:
The Skinny Boys, Steady B, BDP and more in Philly, 1988:
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