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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
To call Percee P – the “legendary lyricist of the subterranean” – ahead of his time doesn’t even begin to do justice to his legacy. Even though Perseverance is his first album, it was nineteen years ago that he first blessed vinyl with his brain-melting rapid-fire rap style that many still haven’t caught up to (even today), while his sporadic 12″ appearances have maintained his status throughout the nineties. After meeting the Stones Throw crew while selling tapes a couple of years back, Perc is about to be introduced to a whole new generation of rap fans.
Robbie: How did you get to know Lord Finesse? Was he from the same area in the Bronx?
Percee P: I battled Lord Finesse, that’s when I met him, in 1989. There’s a DVD that’s out called SBX! that has the actual footage of us battling. So that’s the first time that I met him, but A.G. is the one who told me that he wanted me on the album – ‘cos A.G. is from the same housing project where I’m from – so he told me “Finesse is doing another album, and he wants you on the album, Perc, with me and him rhyming.” I wound-up doing another song with just Finesse called “Kickin’ Flavor Wit My Man”.
That was crazy that one, man. So was that battle in 1989 actually set-up earlier? Because someone had brought a video camera and everything.
Yeah, the guy that was hosting it – he was the one who started the battle – he’s from my project. His name is Tony Web. He basically knew me and Finesse, so he would tell Finesse how I would take everybody out in Forest Projects – that’s where Finesse is from, with Fat Joe and Diamond D, and Showbiz is from up there. So he just told him that, but I didn’t know Finesse, he was just trying to instigate something. He came back to me sayin’ the same thing: “This guy named Finesse, from Forest, he’s sayin’ that he can beat everybody from Patterson Projects…including you!” and all this nonsense. So it just went back and forth, to the point where Finesse come around Patterson looking for me, then I come around his project looking for him, until we finally met-up. Before we started the battle I told my man to go get his camcorder…my friend Dave. My man D-Nique got his box, his radio, and I always carried tapes on me with beats on it, like 45 King beat tapes I used to just record from my DJ Ekim‘s house, just so I could write rhymes off it, and that’s what I had on me so that’s why we kept rewinding the “Funky Drummer” beat back, before we started the next round. The rest was history.
There was a part when an ice-cream truck pulls up next to you guys and you can hardly hear…[I start laughing]
To me, I find it annoying, because ice-cream trucks only came around where there’s a crowd of people, to make money. So we was rapping, and next thing you know he’s coming up. It’s hot, but he don’t know that he’s almost drowning us out. He just felt like he could capitalize off the situation. “Oh, I see all these people. I’m gonna go over there and sit there for a while.” But he had the bell playing and the music was just like “Damn! It’s all loud.”
T-Ray told me that there were some other songs you guys recorded at Power Play when you made “Lung Collapsing Lyrics”.
There’s probably two other songs we recorded. But yeah, he had a lotta beats…for days, he had beats. I introduced him to Lord Finesse, matter-of-fact, for him to do that “Yes, You May” remix. The one that featured Big L on it, his debut.
If we could just get into your process of writing your verses. Obviously you’re not one of those guys that just writes it in the studio. Do you spend weeks on a single verse?
It could take maybe two days, three, ‘cos I’m about the lines, and trying to perfect lines before I move onto the next. It depends on how much motivation I’m getting from the moment. Sometimes I might start something until I get back to it. Back in those days, though, it wasn’t even about sixteen bar verses. Back in them times, in the eighties, people could write a rhyme and it’s like both sides of the paper. That’s how I wrote my rhymes – “Lung Collapsing Lyrics” is both sides of the paper. It wasn’t like nowadays, “Oh, you gotta have a sixteen”, because of the industry. However long your rhyme was – that’s the rhyme! [chuckles]
Were there any other battles that you did back then?
I battled people from high school, out in the parks, ciphering – bangin’ on cars – in the projects, things like that, but nobody really that famous. I was supposed to have a battle with Kwame – the polkadots – ‘cos he went to high school with me, but that never materialized. We never had a battle, we became friends. When he came to the high school, I was a senior, he was in tenth grade, so when he came I guess that’s his way of trying to get out there more, knowing that he’d got some recognition from having a battle with someone like that. I was kinda popular in that high school, for rhyming and stuff, so I guess he chose me to battle, but it never happened.
In the mid-nineties you worked with Shazam X and Sick Lyrical Damager. How did that all start?
Sick Lyrical Damager, he’s from my project. He’s somebody I’ve known since kindergarden class, ‘cos I grew-up in that project since I was three years-old, since my mother moved there, and she’s still there right now. His name is Rodney – we called him Rod, though. When he started rhyming, he was down with a guy named Dre – Andre. They called themselves R2-D2, and they DJ name was DJ Double D – Devious Devastator. So R2-D2 – Rod Swift and Dre Smooth, right? And later on down the line in the nineties, that’s when he changed his name, after they separated. Dre Smooth became A.G., who you know as Andre The Giant now. Rob became Sick Lyrical Damager. Right now, in this day and time, he changed his name to Lazy-I. He’s got a new album now – he’s been in The Source and everything. You can find him on MySpace, with videos and everything. We know where A.G. is at now. So that’s just a little history.
What about Shazam X?
He’s a producer from Harlem, that I met from Lazy. He was working on him and he wanted to do tracks with me, so me and Rod were going to little open mics together, hangin’ out a lot. We went to some open mic out in Queens – matter of fact, it was around Lefrak City and Queens – and we went to it and we met this guy who had a label called V-Max Records – Max Reed. We met him, he was an older guy but he liked us. We both went up there as solo artists, but we represented the Bronx and he thought we were just a little different. He put the “Nowhere Near Simple” out first, then he put out “It’s Over”, which was Rod’s record. Before we recorded those songs, we already recorded with Shazam X, which was “Respect Costs More Than Money”. Once we put out our solo 12″s, we followed up with the song which we’d already recorded before we got down with that label.
D-Nique the Hypnotic Performer – was he your first rhyme partner?
He wasn’t actually my first – my first rhyme partner was my brother. My moms have six kids, so my oldest brother inspired me and my brother, who’s one year younger than me. Him and my uncle inspired us to come to jams out in the park, plus the tapes to bring back. It was me and my brother rhyming together, my brother KG. My oldest brother name was Dice – that’s what they called him back then, they’re still calling him that now. He was Easy Dice then, he had a crew called The Fabulous Four. My uncle, his name was Cooley Breeze – my uncle Jesse – and he had a crew named The Undefeated Force, which T La Rock was down with. When I came to my grandmother’s house I could see that – I’d see T La Rock, Special K from the Treacherous Three is T La Rock’s brother, so they lived in my grandmother’s building. I just had people rhyming around me a lot. Going to my grandmother house, be in the room – you could hear them. Be in the projects, and I’d come back home to the projects. Me and my brother – his name was KG. I gave him the name RKG, Royal King Gee, but people call him KG to this very day. He really not rhyming – he can rhyme now, but he’s more like a family person. He works, his family just had another son now. We was called the Vicious Two MC’s, and I had wrote the routines for us. He wrote his own rhymes, I wrote my rhymes, but I wrote the routines. We had sing-a-long routines, kinda like the Force MC’s, the Cold Crush – the pioneers, the way they did it back in the days. Goin’ back and forth with routines and stuff.
Then I went solo, and I had other little DJ’s I was dealing with at the time. My man G-Smooth, I had a period when I was down with him. We called ourselves Rated-PG, and he’s on a song I did called “Skills Mastered”, which is on the Now and Then CD. He’s the last guy who that raps on the song. Me and him used to hang out a lot and go to labels like B-Boy Records, back in the days when “South Bronx” came out. We was goin’ down there and tryin’ to get on. That’s where I met Kay Gee from the Cold Crush. I met Scott La Rock from goin’ to the label all the time, and Kay Gee got me in the studio – first real, professional studio. It was him that put me there and started taking me to clubs, out to Manhattan and started really leaving the Bronx to go places. Actually getting into clubs to see what it was like. D-Nique – I battled him. He’s from the project too, from the other side of the project where A.G. is from. We met from battling. We both felt that we were both good, and we just teamed-up. Called ourselves Top Priority, and we had a DJ – Ekim, who went to Junior high school with me – from another project called Jackson Projects. He’s from the same project where Kay Gee is from. It’s the first Almighty Kay-Gee that actually got me in the studio for the first time. I just wanted to put that on record. It was a studio called K-Rock studio, This guy named Kenny Scott, who passed away. He got killed in his studio, some people tried to rob him. They just came in there and killed him. That was in the Bronx.
Have you still got copies of any of your early demos?
I have stuff from Double D, hangin’ at his house, that used to be deejaying for R2-D2. Their DJ had a lotta people coming to his house and just recording people back then, just doing house tapes and cutting breaks, or doing little songs and stuff. He had little Dr. Rhythm drum machines, and Casio’s and stuff. Just messing around. A friend of mines have ’em in New York, like two tapes worth. He taped two whole, full tapes of nothing but me rhyming, or my brother, or me by myself, or me and D-Nique or me with some other cats. Anything that had me rhyming. When I get my tapes back, I wanna try and leak some of that out.
I heard a tape that had you rhyming over a King Tee beat.
I remember that one, it was the Stretch Armstrong Show. That was when I met Stretch and ’em in 1990. Did you ever hear me when I was on the “Throwback Rap Attack”? The remix that Cut Chemist did? If you heard that, that’s me rhyming in one of my friends house in the projects. My man Pudge. His brother named Bruce had turntables, so I was rapping over “Love Rap”, “Funky Penguin”, “Big Beat”, different breaks and stuff. Basically I played that on Stretch Armstrong show, and that’s how Cut Chemist got a hold of that and remixed it.
Wasn’t your verse from “Yes, You May” originally from the Stretch show in 1990?
That was the first time I ever was on the Stretch Armstrong Show. I was rhyming with Large Professor, who I met at Pete Rock house with me and my DJ, Ekim, and D-Nique. We used to hang with Ekim ‘cos he used to practice a lot with Dr. Butcher, who used to DJ for Kool G Rap. He used to hang with them and practice with Steve D. We was with Steve D when he won his championship in New Music Seminar. As a matter of fact, the 1990 New Music Seminar…I’ll put this out there, not too many people know this, but I was actually one of the MC’s that was in the battle. I won, actually to be in the battle. I didn’t win the championship, but I actually won placement, ‘cos you know to be in the New Music Seminar you had to send in tapes – like three verse or four – on a cassette tape? And I got picked to be in it. Ekim sent in a tape and I sent one in too, and I got picked. And Ekim got in it too. He didn’t win, and I didn’t win either – but we got in! That’s where I met Maestro Fresh Wes.
Then you did “Pray To The East” on his album, didn’t you?
Yeah, ‘cos I didn’t win, but a lotta people came out to see me. Lord Finesse was telling Ice-T about me and all of them. I met Ultramagnetic from hanging in B-Boy Records. I brought Ultramagnetic to Stretch Armstrong for the first time they ever been down there – I brought ’em down. And I was down there with DMX, who I’d known from when I ‘d come out with my first record in ’88. We were down with this management called House Party Entertainment, and the guys used to do this in the club called The Castle in the Bronx every Thursday, they called it “House Party Night”. They had a crew that they was managing, different MC’s kinda like the Juice Crew All-Stars but they called us the House Party All-Stars. There was DMX The Great – that’s down with Ruff Riders, Top Quality – that made Magnum Opus, Top Priority – that’s us. They had DJ Shabazz that deejayed with Masters of Ceremonies, that Grand Puba used to be down with, and a few other cats. They let Ekim DJ at the club with Capri, ‘cos DJ Kid Capri used to DJ there every Thursday.
I’ve met so many rappers during the time that I’ve been doing it, before they’ve blown-up. I’ve been through so many different eras, to seeing cats a lotta cats from going from open mics, or being at the right places to meet so many people before they’ve gotten big. People like Nas – I met him before he got where he was at, at Big Beat Records, with Akinyele. They was coming down there to meet me, to hear my twelve inch that was coming out. While was down there, because they knew one of my cousins – that’s from Queens – they didn’t believe him that he was really my cousin. Akinyele called the station one day while I was down there at Stretch Armstrong’s show, and asked me did I knew somebody from Queens with the same name as my cousin. I told him “Yeah, that’s my cousin for real”. He wanted to meet me in person one day, so he came into Big Beat Records and he brought Nas with him. I played me stuff for them and we rhymed a little something. That same day, T-Ray called the label for us to come to a session, ‘cos they were doing a remix for MC Serch. If you ever hear “Here It Comes”, the remix, that’s me, Nas, Akinyele, this guy named The Riddler – who T-Ray was working with before me. He called himself Chris Cross, but when the group Kriss Kross came out, he changed his name to The Riddler. It was all of us four in the studio doing the hook, and while we was there, Serch said “How ’bout, being that we’re all here, we do a remix to ‘Back To The Grill’?” We all recorded a remix to “Back To The Grill” on the same beat. Serch still have it right now. It’s a song that’s out there that’s not released, but it’s recorded.
So there’s a version with you on it?
I’m on it. Me, Nas, Akinyele, The Riddler and Serch.
You mentioned that T La Rock lived nearby. Is it fair to say that him and Kool Moe Dee were an influence on you?
Yeah, he was very influential on me. Back in those times – the vocab and all that, the big words. Treacherous Three tapes, listening to them and T La Rock. Coming out as an artist, that just inspired me a lot. Plus they wasn’t trying to be the average MC – they tried to stand apart. I didn’t want to be the average cat, so I was always stepping-up the bars. Even T La Rock’s sound was different when he came out. His production style with Mantronix was different. He was ahead of his time with the lyrics. Even the beats stood out, the way his beats were swinging and Mantronik‘s drums. T La Rock’s music was kinda ahead of it’s time.
Definitely. I remember when the Treacherous Three came out with “Gotta Rock”, that style Kool Moe Dee kicked on that blew me away.
And Special K’s part too, that was kinda dope. The way he didn’t rhyme on certain parts was almost like kinda what Ultramagnetic was doing, but I can see that they had influence on him too.
With the Stones Throw album, are you finding you have to introduce yourself to new listeners or people that might not have heard of you before?
Right now, it’s good. I’m feeling like it’s gotten a lot of good feedback. The album kept getting pushed back cause Madlib had to remix it – every song – so I was waiting for the remixes, plus I had to write all the lyrics [down]. We had to re-record the whole album over too, ‘cos we was working in one studio first, and then they got me to another studio and it was a better quality I guess, so they started having me to re-record songs over.
Are most of the rhymes on the album new?
A little…lines here and there. Sometimes I have stuff that I wrote that I hadn’t really put into a rhyme on vinyl, but I said “I want to use this” ‘cos it’s still part of my experience and I wanted it told. Like “The Man To Praise”, that story is a story that needs to be told as a whole, ‘cos that can kinda tell more about me than an interview – it’s in a song and it’s basically reaching more people. “Throwback Rap Attack”, if you ever watch the battle that I had with Lord Finesse in the SBX! movie, that’s the first verse that I said. Most people don’t know that, but I titled it that for a reason, so people can see what that sound like – back then. The kind of lyrics I was actually writing that I wrote back then. It wasn’t me trying to sound like something I was doin’ then, it actually was a rhyme that I wrote from back then.
You also mention “A lot of people sold my fake dreams”. Was that from people saying “Hey, I’ll put your album out” or whatever?
Yeah. A lotta people always talkin’ about “I know this person from this label” – all these different things that people always say. That’s the way for them to get their foot in the door. “I know this person at this label, let’s do this song so I can take it to them” and all this kinda nonsense. Or “Let me get some tracks done!” – to their music though. “I know this person over here, man. Let’s record some tracks so we can take them some stuff”, but they really don’t know nobody! They’re just trying to get vocals on their tracks. Next thing you know, instead of taking it to a label, they’re wanting to put it out now: “Oh, we could just put it out ourselves…” So I’ve been through that kinda thing before. That’s what kinda got me motivated to do for self and start selling tapes and CD’s. It just made me do it myself and get my own name out there, instead of depending on people like that.
That must be hard work, trying to sell to people hand-to-hand.
It’s a hard job, it ain’t easy. But I make it easier by going places like Fat Beats where you’ll more likely know the underground artists. Pop-up at a Rock Steady anniversary – where you probably will know me – Zulu Nation anniversary, and just hope that I run across people that acknowledge me and I can promote myself to people from all over that can take my music back to wherever they came from. Fat Beats is an internationally known spot, too, so if I stood there and sold my music, people from overseas would come and take it back with ’em. That’s how my music has gotten to travel.
What is it about the Bronx that sets it apart?
The first reason right there is that’s the place where hip-hop started at. In the beginning stages I was there, right when it all started, ‘cos I was living in the Bronx. It was a scene, a culture that was goin’ on that had nothing to do with TV or nothing. It was just something that was goin’ on in the street level. Plus as far as living conditions, man, that was one of the worst ghettos in America. That’s what made hip-hop. It was poor – buildings burnt down, gang activity goin’ on – it was bad. People ain’t have much, and I think that’s what made hip-hop, ‘cos it was something to give the people who was poor and didn’t really have nothin’, give them something to do and some self-esteem. Make them feel like they had something and give them a sense of pride. Where they’re from might be from the projects or the buildings are burnt down, and people don’t want to come here and don’t show no acknowledgment to a place like this, ‘cos they feel like this is no place to come visit. Hip-hop has given pride to the borough. I’m from where it all started and I was around at the time – I was a youngster, but I was there, living there – coming up in it all, and I’m still here now. Call it perseverance. That just show I have a lot to say and have seen a lot! People might be in hip-hop, but might not have seen what I’ve seen. That’s something that I have. That’s where if you come from the Bronx, and you’re like my age or older – that’s something nobody can take away from you. No matter what people with money and status and all that, if you’re not from there you can’t say you did it all. You might have the money but you don’t have the experiences.
Percee P – “Throwback Rap Attack” (Cut Chemist Remix)
Percee P – “Nowhere Near Simple”
Maestro Fresh Wes feat. Percee P – “Pray To Da East”
Percee P & Large Professor – “Freestyle on The Stretch Armstrong Show, 1990″
Percee P, Ekim & Lazy-I – “Freestyle on The Stretch Armstrong Show, 1990″
King Sun feat. UMC’s, Percee P & Rich Nice – “Pass The Mic” (unreleased)
JayLib feat. Percee P – “The Exclusive”
Lord Finesse feat. Percee P & A.G. – “Yes, You May”
Percee P & Lord Finesse “Rematch At Patterson” video:
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