Filed under: Features,Flavor Unit Special,In Search Of...,Interviews,Not Your Average,Promos & Exclusives,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
One of the unsung heroes of the original Flavor Unit was Lord Ali Ba-Ski (aka The Human Body Chart), who wrecked shit something terrible on the 45 King Presents…The Flavor Unit album. I always wondered why he didn’t drop any other records after that album, and after I did a post about him as part of 2006’s Flavor Unit Special, the big man himself blessed the comment section. It goes without saying that I followed-up with an interview request, and as is often the case it took over a year before we finally got a chance to build – but it was well worth the wait.
What better way to mark the 350th post on Unkut Dot Com than an exclusive with this Flavor Unit originator?
Robbie: So you’re 6’8″ and you used to play ball?
Ali Ba-Ski: I went to junior school in Kentucky, then I transferred to a four-year in Alabama – Sanford University. I left there after the first year. We used to run them bleaches around the whole stadium, and then I got diagnosed with something called Osgood’s Slaughter. That’s when you real tall and the bone beneath your knee-cap slips from under there – you get mad tendonitis. After that happened, I was still able to play but I just lost my drive for it. They had me projected to play overseas professionally and everything! I was the number two player in the State of Kentucky as a freshman, and then I was the number one player in my sophomore year, before I got all the offers and everything. I was out there handling my business. While all that was going on, I wasn’t even thinking of rap.
Apache and Latee, they my first cousins. They pretty much pulled me in the game. They was goin’ over to East Orange, New Jersey – to Mark house – and they asked me did I want to go one day, so I went over there with ‘em. They used to be over there – Apache, Latee, Chill Rob, Lakim Shabazz – they used to be in there freestyling, and Taheed used to be there too. He used to be down with Apache, they used to have their little group, there was two of ‘em. I used to be in there, sipping on my 40’s while they was doin’ their thing, and then just outta the blue one day I shocked all of ‘em and just said something that I had written, and they was all on the ground rollin’ and laughin’ and cracking up! After that it was one verse after the other, it never stopped. All it did was get better.
Then you had four solo tracks on the Flavor Unit album. Was that an album that was put together from start to finish, or was that just a collection of songs?
No. When I signed with Tuff City and Aaron Fuchs, the idea was for me to complete a whole album. I was in the process of doing that – me and my DJ, Grand Wizard BK. After he left me he started deejaying for Sugar Ray.
BK The Bootsmoker? From Double XX Posse?
Yep. We went over to New York and we brought Aaron some tracks that BK made, and they was hot. So he came to the conclusion “OK, yeah” – we got in the studio. Mark was a part of it too. He still had tracks. But the only thing about Mark is – he never gave me tracks to write to. I had so many flows that my verses could go to any tempo – slow, fast, medium or what-have-you. It wasn’t until we got to the studio he would ask me “You like this? You like this? You like this?” as opposed to giving me something to write to. I never had that luxury like the rest of ‘em. So me and my man BK, after Aaron got us up in the studio, we started working on our album. He hadn’t done any of the tracks – every track that was done was with Mark. “The Flavor Unit Assassination Squad” wasn’t slated for my album or nothin’ but it was something we did and it was fun. The original songs was the ones that were slated to go on the album, that was on the so-called compilation album. When I was in the studio working on mine, he [Aaron] just popped-up one day all of a sudden and said “We need another Lakim Shabazz album tomorrow”. I’m looking at him like “Yo, what that got to do with me?”
What happened was, he put Lakim back in the studio and then there wasn’t no time set up for us! So I said to myself: “You know what, man? This is a bullshit label, because this guy can’t even afford to have two artists in the studio at the same time?” And after that happened, I was like “Well if that’s the case, then money-wise this is gonna be a bullshit deal”. Plus, unlike the rest of ‘em that waited so late in the Flavor Unit, I wasn’t at the point where rap was gonna feed me anyway, because I always worked hard. All of ‘em will tell you – I always kept a good job. So I wasn’t really beefin’ with Aaron or beefin’ with any of ‘em. When he put Lakim in the studio, I just left. I just cut off all ties with him. He was calling me, telling me he wanted to get me back in there, this, that and the third.
One day I’m on my way to work and I hear “Crunch Time” on the radio and I’m like “Wow” [chuckles], then I hear “Lyrics In Motion” another time and I’m like “Whoa!”. But it was enough bait for me, you know what I’m sayin? I used to literally bodyguard for Monie Love and Queen Latifah, when we used to do the college tour up on 95. Used to go to Delaware State and all the places where they had shows at. My job was to make sure they get to the bathroom and back! [laughs] Monie Love used to tell me shit like: “Ali Ba-Ski, I gotta wee-wee!” and I used to clear the way and let ‘em know “Back up! Back up! We coming through!” She’s back on the radio now, she’s with Ed Lover again.
She’s still in good shape from what I’ve seen.
So basically there were records that you’d made, and Aaron Fuchs just started putting them out after you severed ties?
Exactly! When he saw that I wasn’t gonna come back…then him and Mark always did work together, and that’s what they did. They put all of those songs together on that compilation album. I had mad other material to follow-up with that, but…It’s funny, I was looking at the [Unkut] site, with the comments that people was giving me, and I was like “Wow, I didn’t know I had any fans!”
A lot of the Flavor Unit had a deep-voiced style, like Lakim had a deep baritone…
His voice definitely don’t go with his body at all!
I remember when I saw his album cover, I was like “Is that the same guy?”
[laughs] He’s a little midget, he’s got the whole big voice. But none of us never had no problems. All of us made the decisions we made. Actually, me, Latee, Chill Rob and Lakim – I think everybody just learned from our mistakes, and Apache just waited everything out to see how this game was gonna go. Latifah had the first, best deal, and then Double J had a chance with 4th & Broadway, and then Apache got the next deal when he brought the “Gangsta Bitch” out. Then came all the new Flavor Unit people – Naughty By Nature, Black Sheep and all them cats. They learned from our mistakes not to jump in the fire like that. I don’t know what that garbage was Latifah put out in California. The Unit? Oh, that was a wack-ass album. Those guys are trippin’, that whole name was created by Latee. That whole idea and everything was his from the beginning. They just fired him recently from Flavor Unit Management.
He was still working for them until recently?
Yeah, after all these years! He was the head A&R! Maybe they stopped signing people to the management aspect and then they just let him go, out of the blue, saying there wasn’t no work – but they still kept all those non-discript people that wasn’t there from the beginning. Sha-Kim – that guy is a straight-up snake. For him to do that to Latee like that? The originator? I was like “Oh, this guy…”
Chill Rob told me how they just copyrighted the name without speaking to any of you guys.
Yeah. After the episode with Aaron Fuchs at Tuff City…even when we would go on the road, we had meetings. I remember one time I didn’t make a show, and they called me on the phone and they had me on speaker, and they asked me what was I going to do – as far as my music and everything goes – and I told them I didn’t even care. It didn’t make me no difference. I had a small-time goal – that’s to hear a song on the radio – and I heard it! They was all cracking-up in the background, they was like “He buggin’, man. He need to ghost-write for somebody or somethin!” All these years I just basically worked. I was back in the studio five years ago though. Me and my man Grandwizard Gary T – god bless his soul – he passed away while I was trying to make another album. We got five or six songs done. They was never mastered, they was demos – but they good demos. He passed away while we were in the process of doing that, coz he was so big. He was ten pounds bigger than Mark! He was damn-near at the point of being bed-ridden. But boy did he have Mark’s style and everything. This guy was good, so I was working with him and a couple of local cats from around here. I had my brother on one of the songs, and Latee and Lakim Shabazz was gonna do a song with me too. I gave them the concept and they was gonna get back with me on it, but when he passed away all that stuff was stopped. I still had a bunch of material, this album was gonna consist of at least nineteen songs, and all of ’em was bangers.
So what have you done with all of that material?
Nah, I’m done now. I’m done. It’s a wrap now. I still be having cats that want me to get down with ‘em, get on a song, every now and then. I might go to the old neighborhood, see people in the little ciphers, in the circle, freestyling or whatnot. They’ll flag me down, “Come over!” – think I still don’t have it, then I end-up chippin’ them up real fast, jump back in the van and go. [chuckles]
What do you think sets New Jersey apart in terms of style?
When rap first came out man, everybody was real intrigued with it and I think cats over in New Jersey, we did so much listening to the New York rappers when it first dropped, and they started having they little crews out here that used more different style and jingles to go with they music. Taken from the early Force MC’s, before they was the Force MD’s, some of Doug Fresh earliest shit, coz Doug Fresh used to come over here and rhyme with these cats called Sweet, Slick and Slide that was from Jersey City – Albee Al and them, god bless his soul, he passed away – we used to have all of ‘em come over here, and in regards to Jersey City, that’s who pulled us cats in the game. People like the Devastating Tito from Fearless Four used to come over here, everyone used to come over here, mixtapes of him on there, freestyling. Kool Moe Dee used to come over here, and this guy from Jersey City named Chief Chuckaluck – he knew all of ‘em, so he was the one that used to bring them over this way. We played the outside early on, but I think we did a lot more listening than anybody, coz we right next to New York.
You were saying that Kool Moe Dee was a big influence on you. Who else were you checking for?
KRS and Rakim, and LL with his earlier stuff. Not the lover-boy LL though. The hardcore LL – the very first album, with “Dangerous” and all that hard stuff on there.
Did you used to get into many battles around the schoolyard?
Aw man, plenty of times. You ask anybody about the little ciphers we used to have around here, man? Shhh, I used to chip cats up on a regular basis. We might be in a bar drinking and go outside and be like “Oh what’s up? You still got it? I’ll bust your ass” and just let ’em know there’s still some work in there that I could go upside you head with. [chuckles] Me and Chill Rob used to be out there, eating them cats alive. Going over Mark’s house – we couldn’t wait! He used to be fuckin’ around all the time, blazing his trees and we used to all be in there blazing trees and everything, waiting for this guy to throw some tracks on so we could get busy! He used to be in there bullshittin’ and we’re like “Damn, man! Are we going to get down or what?” Chill Rob or Latee used to have to be the ones that asked him to throw some music on so we could freestyle. If me, Apache or Double J was like “Come on, we wanna rip, yo. Put some shit on!” He was like “I don’t feel like doin’ it”, this or that. And when he did, we used to be down there for hours, like a golf round. Be down for three or fours straight, freestylin’. Everybody with mad material. I don’t think anybody had more verse than me, Chill Rob and Lakim. When they said all they could say, we was still goin’ back to back
Did you guys used to record all of that?
Yeah! I know Mark’s still got all of that stuff around the house. He’s still got all them old freestyles, he used video some of them and everything! He don’t throw nothing away. I actually used to write for Mark, I wrote some verses for Mark. Did he tell you that?
Nah, I forgot to ask him about that.
If you look at Latifah’s first album, I wrote a song on there for her too, and I wrote his verses.
“A King and Queen Creation”?
Yeah. That shit was hot, for a duo. They shoulda gave that song a chance, it used to ring in my ears all the time. It had the vicious horns on there!
Did you write any of his other rhymes?
Anything you hear with 45 King where he’s rhyming on a song? Either I wrote it or Lakim Shabazz wrote it. I didn’t get no royalties or nothing for it – I just did it for him coz that’s my man, you know?
How come there were never any pictures of you in magazines or anything?
All you had to do to catch me back in the days – any time there was something going on with regards to the Flavor Unit, I was there. All you had to do was look for the biggest motherfucker in the crowd! [laughs]
Did you used to perform in Jersey a lot?
I did some local stuff around here, like at The Boys Club and stuff like that. That used to be on the humbug, it wasn’t nothing that I anticipated doin’. Like Apache and Taheed did a show at the Boys Club in Jersey City and they called me up to get down with ‘em, so I got up there and was ripping with ‘em, had the crowd in a frenzy and everything, like “Yo! I ain’t even know this motherfucker rap, yo!” I’ll tell you boy, when we was in the Apollo though, I was hoping so bad he’d let me get up there and rip with him. Apache went against the grain though, man. Everybody that rolled with him, with the Flavor Unit, once he got on – you know how you’re supposed to bring your crew on and everything else? He just ended up with a whole different bunch of people, man! We was all of a sudden not in the mix with him, and he had a whole new crew and everything! I was like “Whoa!” And it’s family! What’s the science behind that? Apache is on permanent disability now. He has a bruised heart.
He has a bruised heart – really.
Sorry, I though you were kidding.
No, that’s real. He’s in the ministry now. He’s in the church like you wouldn’t believe, Robbie. He’s trying to be a minister and everything. He’s saved, sanctified, baptized and all of that stuff!
How do you get a bruised heart though?
He got his bruised heart from when he was with that label and making all that good money, coz Apache got the biggest shine – not including Naughty By Nature and Latifah and all the rest of ‘em – but as far as the original Flavor Unit cats? He got the biggest shine outta all of us, as far as money. I mean he had a $250,000 budget with his label, see. And Apache did show after show after show. He was getting triple what Chill Rob was getting for a show. He used to get anywhere from 7 G’s to 20 G’s a show! He went through some money. This guy used to get so high and drunk – his whole thing was a big ‘ol party. Then he bloated all the way up to 300 and something pounds, and mind you he’s like only 5’9″, 5’10”. He blew up to 300 pounds and the guys almost bed-ridden from getting so big, and then he went up and down. He had a couple of serious episodes, and then, you know how African-American people do – when shit go bad for them, they turn to the lord! [laughs] That’s what happened. Our family always was in the church. His mother, my father – we grew up in the church, prior to rapping and smoking weed and doing all that stuff, man. I ain’t gonna sit on this phone and tell you “I did five years down Borden Town!” or nothing like that shit. It seems like that has to be part of your M.O. to be successful – to have been locked-up before to be accepted into the rap game. I’ll tell somebody in a heart-beat – I went to church three times a week, and on the weekends, and still get in somebody ass! Without being locked-up!
Or being shot! That’s the new one.
Getting shot is a bonus!
Was “Top Gun” your favorite song from that compilation?
Nah. My favorite song was “Lyrics In Motion”, I liked that slow tempo.
Ali Ba-Ski – “Lyrics In Motion”
Unreleased tracks from Ali’s 2002 recordings:
Ali Ba-Ski – “Go Head Old Head”
Ali Ba-Ski – “Here It Is”
Ali Ba-Ski – “Sunny Days, Gloomy Nights”
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