Filed under: Interviews,Killa Queens,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Intifada
Here’s a new drop from Unkut Dot Com‘s New York correspondent Idris Intifada:
After Kwest Tha Madd Ladd rhymes you’re banned from using writing utensils. Those who have heard Kwest’s lyrical prowess will agree that this penalty is just. Other rappers should stop writing and start robbing banks like Steady B. As an MC, he’s got it all; a unique voice, advance rhyme patterns and versatility of subject matter. Yet due to a music industry founded on stupidity he is criminally slept-on. Although Kwest’s debut full-length This is My First Album released on American in 1996 didn’t receive the promotion it deserved, those who have had the chance to hear the LP, his appearances on several 12 inches or witnessed the destructive nature of his battle-raps will agree that he possesses a remarkable talent. In recent years, the fans have been left unfulfilled by an industry that refuses to support gifted artists and subsequently we have heard very little from the Queens-based MC. Questions about Kwest’s whereabouts have arisen due to his seeming disappearance from Hip-Hop. Baseless conjectures claiming that Kwest has met an untimely death or is living on the street have surfaced on internet message board rumor mills.
I had the pleasure to interview Kwest and quash the false rumors. The truth is that Kwest is an uncompromising artist who refuses to change his craft in order to sell records. He is releasing a LP consisting of previously unreleased cuts on No Sleep Recordings that exemplify his unbending devotion to great music. I present below a long overdo interview that will hopefully begin a trend in giving Kwest the attention he deserves.
Idris: What have you been up to? There are a lot of rumors floating around. Can you breakdown the hiatus?
Kwest: [laughs] My untimely demise was greatly exaggerated! DL, my friends and I all have day-jobs. We consider ourselves purists. We sit together and throw around trivia that everyone should know but doesn’t. The underground scene I came from and respected so much eventually got saturated and they went on to making radio singles. Dudes I respected ended up flipping and doing the same 16 bars then a hook. That’s when I had to fall back. I would do some joints, like the Groove Attack B-side but people weren’t appreciating what was coming out.
I’m trying to do records and collaborate but I had to get a job. I have expensive taste in kicks. Any women who wants to send me sneakers, I’m a size nine! Don’t send me the Notebooks. I want the “What the” Dunks or the Melvins!
Today, I don’t like the state it [hip-hop] is in. Its hard to garner respect and I wouldn’t feel right trying to do that how you have to now. Dudes don’t rhyme anymore, I want to bring it back to when they did, the era from ’86 to ’94, when you were in awe of it. Now the quality of the music is garbage. I’m not into name-dropping, you know who you are, its not about how much money you are making.
Can you tell me about the new album?
It should have happened ten years ago. Due to unseen forces it didn’t. I recorded a whole bunch of tracks, I though they were lost. They are all songs from 94 and 96. Basically, they are from the mid-nineties. They gave me a budget for my album, they wanted me to record a standard album of 15 tracks, I did maybe 30 to 45 tracks, some of the shit you will never hear. I am not one of the people who give out ten tracks per album. If you order a ham and cheese, you don’t want a piece of meat and a piece of cheese. You want a real sandwich! If you’re feeling my shit, you shouldn’t be left wanting for more, if there is more.
My man James ran into my A&R at a Large Professor party. We set up a meeting with him. I thought he was going to be an asshole, but he was like “Whatever you want do, I’ll help you out”. He gave us the masters, the demos and the DATs. The results are what you’re going to hear on this new album.
So you don’t want to knock your old A&R out anymore?
I don’t want to kill him anymore. I wouldn’t want to go to jail.
Who handled the production on the album?
It’s a mixed bag. I did a couple of songs. There were a lot of ideas I was toying around with and so I went into the studio and did them. The A&R, Dan Charnas, did a lot of songs.
In the Ego Trip interview you explained that you’re A&R shouldn’t handle your production. Did the songs he produced come out to your liking?
Every single I put out he had his hands on. There were other tracks I did but he wanted to put his out. I’m not mad at him, people like “What’s the Reaction”, and “101 Things to Do”. I didn’t have a [DJ] Premier. I had people that were decent and did their thing regardless. I had L.A. Jay. I had Tony D, who worked with the Poor Righteous Teachers. The Baka Boys contributed two or three. They were on Power 106 in LA.
But Premier, I want a track from you. He is my favorite producer of all time. I didn’t have a million dollar budget, so I couldn’t get a Dre or this person or that person. I like putting money in the pockets of people who could use it. You got the top three producers but you got dudes out who are also good.
How did you hook up with Fat Jack?
I was out in Cali. I can’t forget DJ Homicide. He’s the dude from Sugar Ray and provided most of the meat for the album, like “A.M./P.M.” and “Suttin Awful”.
You have mentioned in past interviews that by the time your first album dropped your style had changed. Do the songs on the new album reflect your new style?
My style has always been my style. In some phases, everyone wants to rhyme one way. I’m always going to be me. Whether it’s being funny or whatever, I rhyme how I felt I should rhyme, even if that means taking the rhyme nine bars past the standard. I used to try and experiment with patterns and with start and stops within the rhyme. Most importantly, every song I did had to be better than the last one.
Most of the first album is off the head. They gave me $5000 for a single and I got dudes I grew up with to find cheap studios and find producers who wouldn’t want so much money. I ended up growing up a lot in that span of time. So if you notice “What’s the Reaction” and “What’s the Reaction (Remix)” are two totally different songs. It’s always me, the part of me I let shine.
After your first album, the 12 inches you appeared on, like the Shabaam Sahdeeq and the Rok-One single, I noticed a style-change. Was that a conscious decision?
It wasn’t conscious, but it was always in me. I always tried to be a lyrical dude. Everything I write, I try to make it better than the last. I am not my biggest fan. I heard my album twice in its entirety, when someone else played it for me. I was there when I recorded it, why would I listen to it again? I like my direction now cause I don’t know where I’m going. For every person who thinks they are the best, there may be someone who is better out there. I never want someone to consider me wack. I am always trying to reach that next level
Do you have more material recorded from the period after your album?
I wasn’t really thinking about rhyming then. I was about getting a job. I did a few records like the “5 Star Generals” record with Eminem on it. I met Eminem at an event organized by Wendy Day. That record is a classic, in my eyes. James from No Sleep has also helped me out a lot. Hip-hop I love you but I can’t really fuck with you anymore. You are like a baby’s mother who isn’t acting right.
Do cats tell you that you burned those cats on their own record?
I’m not going to go into that. But there is the reason why people make the anchor for a lot of songs! I will say this for future reference. If you put me on a song with you, make sure you’ve got a few verses that you can pick and choose from. My whole aim is to kill. If you are going to have me on your song then I’m going give you some sick, time-involved written shit. It’s going to be a fucking wrap!
Who did the art direction for the album and picked out the clothing for the back cover?
My man Q and I did the sticker. The stickers with the kid on them symbolizes the theme of the album. I didn’t say no to any of it. I didn’t know what was what. So I agree to a lot of it. They ran with the Madd Ladd idea and dressed me up like that. I got it from De La Soul, they were one of my favorite groups. That was a big-up to them. As for the dressing shit, it has to be fly. I rep kicks and clothes, that’s always been my thing.
Do you feel you had more creative control within the independent scene than at American?
The independent scene always gave me the leeway to do what I wanted to do as far as content. I’m not sour at American. I wasn’t trying to be big at first, I was just rhyming. I don’t hate American or Rick Rubin because if they hadn’t given me a shot who else would have? It went down the way it did but my roots have always been the underground hip-hop. I didn’t come into this to make money.
Before I had an album I was on Stretch and Bobbito. When I did have an album I was in Washington Square Park doing promotion, putting up stickers and doing promotion on the train. The way I write is not for the radio. I push myself and I hate simplicity. I sit and really think it out. I just want to put out quality music.
Can you break down “The Anatomy of an Ass Whippin'”? Can you give me the back-story?
That was a battle that happened in ’90 or ’91 on West 135th street in Harlem at the YMCA. My manager set it up because at the time Harlem had a lot of nice MC’s. The winner would get a $500 and a big-ass trophy. I wasn’t going to enter at first because I thought people would think it would be fixed.
There were the prelims and a handful of dudes rhyming and that left me L-Smooth. L-Smooth was this real tall, brown skin dude and chicks were starting to come in and they were feeling him. He was a chick favorite, they were all on his dick, you know he had the tall high top fade, he was a real Big Daddy Kane-type dude. He wasn’t banging but he had skills but he was strictly writtens. When it came down to the final round, when I got at him, I was like “This shit is going to be fun”.
I had the idea about using props in my rhymes. And I had a jacket with all these pockets and in the middle of my rhyme I would pull something out of my pocket. I pull out a condom I spit or blow the condom up in the middle of my rhyme and kick a rhyme about this condom I used on your moms. On the second and final round, he was trying to say some shit about how I keep pulling shit out of my pockets. I prepared a rhyme for him but it was mostly freestyle. So I basically freestyled the whole rhyme you heard and I was pulling out props and throwing shit at him. My aim was killer! If he would have won, I would have known he paid the judges off. What he said written was no match to my off the head, it wins every time.
Was L-Smooth mad that you pressed up the battle on wax?
He probably was….if he heard it. You can’t try and front like you are not mad after you got your ass whipped. I’ve been mad when I have lost battles to technicalities or when I have flubbed words. You can’t anticipate what someone is going to say to you. You just have to have an arsenal ready. If you lose, chalk it up to experience, go back to the lab and write some harder shit next time.
Who else have you battled?
I battled I.G. Off [from I.G. Off and Hazardous on Beyond Real]. This was the Blaze battle. He battled Rock from Heltah Skeltah and won. I battled some hardcore dude that was popular at the time. KRS was the judge. I wanted meet I.G. Off in the finals because it would have been one of us that would have had it. I didn’t want to battle him cause that’s my dude right there, one of the best freestylers I’ve ever heard. They made us battle cause they knew one of us was going to win
I was battle champ at 88HipHop for 10 weeks. I battled A.L. Skills. I battled Poison Pen from Stronghold because Joe Sinister didn’t show up. Most of my battles were at Washington Square Park or just on the block. If someone said they were nice we would battle. If you were wack, I am going to get it over with quick.
What’s up with not paying attention to hygiene?
That was a media thing. I shower, wear a few different colognes, that was all hype (probably how I ended up “homeless”). I don’t want anyone dirty and stink around me.
Your storytelling is mad vivid. Did any of those stories go down? Did you really meet your baby’s mother at V.I.M?
None of that stuff is true. It’s just showing versatility as an MC. If you MC you have to show what you could. If I said I shot up everything and 145 pounds wet, then that’s just lying. But you have to show what you can do.
What about “125 Pennies For Your Thoughts”?
I used to hop the train and jump the turnstyle a lot! I have gotten caught and paid the fines.
What about the sex topics you pursued?
Some were based on past experiences, some were pure fiction. We are all human, if you get some ass and it’s not right, you have to tell the world. If you get some and its the bomb, likewise, right?
Was the transcribed conversation with the phone sex operator in Divine Styler Magazine real?
That was real.
If that was a battle do you think you won?
I’m a man, of course I won. We got the club and they got the cave. Don’t let know chick out do you in bed. I wish I could have seen what the phone sex chick looked like! She had a hot ass voice. If you reading this phone sex operator send me a picture of you look like!
Any plans for the future?
I don’t even know. There is still stuff that people haven’t heard from me. Songs I need to get from people. I have new ideas are floating around. It’s all about timing. If people like the old me they will definitely love the new me. And one more thing, Madd Ladd is retired, now it’s strictly Kwest!
Check No Sleep Recordings for the latest from Kwest.
Two Kwest Discographies:
Kwest Tha Madd Ladd - “Skin Care”
Kwest Tha Madd Ladd - “Herman’s Head”
Shabaam Shadeeq feat. Eminem, SKam, A.L. & Kwest - “5 Star Generals”
DJ Yoda feat. Celph Titled, Kwest & Apathy - “Fresh Fly Fellas”
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