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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The original Kings of Pressure
Public Enemy and The Bomb Squad were ahead of their time in more ways than one. Beyond the sonic innovation and hardcore lyrical content, the crew also pioneered the kind of self-sufficient work-ethic and forward thinking that would later be repeated as part of the RZA‘s Wu-Tang master plan. The most significant step was their recruiting of local artists to create a stable of crews to further their expanding musical direction – in effect mentoring promising rookies in minor league fashion. What follows are the stories of two of the artists that were put-on by Hank and Keith Shocklee, their cousin Eric Sadler and Chuck D in the late 80s.
DJ Johnny ‘Juice’ Rosado started out as part of the Kings Of Pressure (who dropped a couple of incredible songs before personnel changes resulted in a half-baked album) and went on to perform many of the scratches on PE songs that we all thought Terminator X had executed. He still works with Chuck to this day, having produced much of the group’s recent output. Son Of Bazerk had a far different experience after signing on with Hank, finding himself trapped in career limbo for seven years following the mixed reaction to his experimental debut LP, best remembered for the schizophrenic ‘Change The Style’ single and contribution to the Juice soundtrack.
Robbie: There were two different line-ups with Kings Of Pressure – the one from the singles and the one from the album. How come?
DJ Johnny Juice: It’s a weird story, I’ll hip you to it. What happened was, after the first single there was a lot of bullshit that went on. Some of the cats started getting big-headed. We did a song that never came out, we did a buncha shit! Remember that shit ‘Till The Strength Stay Up’? Flav was playing the keyboard on it. We did a lot of shit, man, and it just never happened because of whatever.
I started deejaying a lot for Public Enemy, doing a lot of the stuff for their production. I was with The Bomb Squad, so a lotta the guys got jealous of that. It was a lotta weird shit happening, ‘cos we were put together by a contest. Hank and Chuck and them dudes had a contest, before PE’s first album came out, to try and find them. They had names for all the groups – Kings Of Pressure, Son Of Bazerk, The Hellraiders, Terminal Illness Crew, Leaders Of The New School – they had all these names, and they were finding dudes.
Son Of Bazerk: Dub Side Gangsters, Funky Frank And The Street Force…
JJ: Yup. They had all these names, they had logos and everything. It looked like they had a whole squad of motherfuckers. They ain’t have nobody! The premise was, if you found dudes that didn’t know each other and put them together like on some ‘Yo, this is business’, they’d handle it like business. But what he didn’t realise is these are street motherfuckers, man, and if you don’t know the next dude you’re like ‘Fuck you, nigga!’ A lotta motherfuckers is like that. The Kings Of Pressure was all on some ‘Fuck you!’ shit! Because two of them were brothers – Cracker Jay and Double D – and then Breeze was their homey, and it happened that they all won the contest and they happened to be homies though. King A is from Freeport, nobody gave a fuck about dude. He came along like, ‘I’m better than all y’all shit’ and he was the wackest dude, flow-wise. So we was all like, ‘Fuck you, nigga!’ and he didn’t want to back down, so he was like, ‘Well fuck y’all motherfuckers, man!’
Then they made me the leader, and I’m like this short little high-school motherfucker and these guys are already in their 20s! It was like, ‘Oh, this motherfucker ain’t gonna be the leader of this motherfucker!’ Everybody was on some ‘Yo, fuck everybody!’ and that’s why the attitude sounded dope.
So that’s why ‘Armed And Dangerous’ and ‘You Know How To Reach Us’ were such hardcore records?
JJ: That’s a four-track tape, son. That shit was done on a four-track cassette. In the studio we tried to redo it, but motherfuckers were fuckin’ up, they didn’t have the vibe…
SOB: Drinkin’, smoking dope…
JJ: “It was fuckin’ crazy, so we just said, ‘You know what? We’ll just use the four-track version,’ and motherfuckers was like, ‘Damn! You’re using the fuckin’ four-track?’ We mixed it down on a four-track cassette and sent it, man. We didn’t give a fuck!”
Whose idea was it to put the beeper noise in ‘You Know How To Reach Us’?
JJ: It was Chuck’s. That was the idea before we started writing the rhymes. Chuck used to be a delivery dude for a graphic arts company, and he wore a beeper, but the only people that wore beepers back in those days were drug dealers and doctors. This is before the beepers even had numbers on ’em. It’d just beep and you’d not know who to call! Chuck was like, ‘Yo, that’s the whole thing – don’t even call me! Beep me, motherfucker!’ There was no cell phones so it was like, ‘Beep me motherfucker, you know where I’m at!’ That was the whole premise. So we sampled Chuck’s beep noise and programmed it as the hi-hat for the fuckin’ drum machine.
Was the song for the Red Alert album [Red Alert Goes Berserk] before the single?
JJ: Actually, we did ‘You Know How To Reach Us’ first, as a demo, at somebody’s crib. I didn’t call it a studio – just a dude with a drum machine and a tape deck. This wasn’t even a four-track or none of that! Everyone just rhymed straight to tape! It was just to get us our deal with Next Plateau. Once we got that, we went into INS to record the shit. Duke Bootee was there doing all those records with Word Of Mouth and DJ Cheese – ‘King Kut’ and all that – those trebly-ass records he always used to make. We was up in the other room doing that, and we did those records real quick. I ended-up rhyming on ‘Give Me The Mic’ and shit because one of the guys – the guy who thought he was the man – the cadence was fuckin’ with him so he couldn’t kick his verse! I’d wrote a verse just in case, because I knew somebody was gonna fuck up, then when A couldn’t get down I rhymed last. That was the A-side, but ‘You Know How To Reach Us’ was the shit that ran shit.
And I don’t have that, ‘cos I lent it to Milo from Leaders Of The New School but his house burnt down. At the very end when we did that shit with the beat-boxing? That shit was unrehearsed, that shit was just motherfuckers buggin’ out, and we just recorded it and spliced it on to the end of the record.
So why were there different guys on ‘Brains Unchained’?
JJ: Cracker Jay and me were in our last year of high school, and after that shit was done I was doing a lotta PE shit and the Slick Rick stuff; I was doing a lotta work and not getting no fuckin’ credit or money. So I said ‘Fuck this’ and I left.
When I left there was nobody to try and focus the Kings Of Pressure, ‘cos them motherfuckers was unfocused. Whenever I’d be like, ‘Let’s do this’ they’d be like, ‘Whatever man, we’re gonna go smoke a blunt at Terrace [Avenue]. I’m like, ‘Y’all motherfuckers are crazy!’ So Double D and Breeze broke out and did their thing, but Breeze got sent up on a bid, he went to jail, and Double D’s younger brother Cracker Jay graduated from high school and got a scholarship for football. He went up to Massachusetts and I joined the military. It was just A, Finesse and Double [on the album] because everybody else left!
Cracker Jay, by the way, I had to help him in high school as a tutor – that motherfucker’s a professor. A college professor. That motherfucker turned his life around. I saw him three years ago at this gig I did with Rob Swift and I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ He went from a barely-passing student to a professor, and I’m proud-as-hell of that dude, man. I went and got a college degree in electrical engineering. It ended-up working out good for us, but Breeze got sent up to jail and Double, he did the album with Finesse and King A but that shit didn’t really happen. That motherfucker got caught-up in the drug game, doing drugs, and that motherfucker ended-up getting blitted-out and going to rehab. King A wanted to do his own thing, J Finesse I wasn’t really familiar with. I ended-up going to the military, I came back and continued doing my thing.
Do you still see any of those guys around?
JJ: I heard Double D is locked-up. Cracker Jay is no longer doing music in that capacity but he’s deejaying and teaching at the University of Southern Connecticut. I saw EZ Breeze, he’s doing good, he works for the Department Of Sanitation, he’s a garbage man but the motherfucker’s making money and seems to be living a clean life – at least as far as I know! Motherfuckers all left and did their thing.
They [Next Plateau] wanted to salvage the Kings Of Pressure – we had an album deal but everybody was gone, so they fulfilled the album deal by doing that [recording the three remaining members]. King A was the best story writer, but he wasn’t the best rapper. The best rapper overall was probably Double D. Freestyle-wise? He’d destroy shit. I’m telling you right now – nobody’s fuckin’ with that dude! Ever! If he didn’t get fucked-up on the drugs and shit, that motherfucker would’ve been… He was a genius at that shit.
SOB: His shit was real dark.
JJ: He was like a voodoo child! That motherfucker was from New Orleans or some shit. He was actually a southern rapper before there was southern rappers. We’re talkin’ 87. If you got to know him, he was the nicest dude in the world. But if you didn’t know his ass you’d never know him, because that motherfucker would keep his shit secret. In the age where everybody was talking shit – ‘I’ll do this!’ – he never had to say that, ‘cos you’d look at him and you’d know there was some shit that you just didn’t want to fuck with him about! Underneath it, if you’d say the wrong thing, he didn’t even have to tell you he’d fuck you up – he’d just come out with some shit and slice you or some shit; shoot you. That’s the kind of brother he was.
But he’d give you the shirt off his back if you were cool with him. He spoke with the whole southern twang, ‘How ya doin’ ma’am?’ He was a suave dude. But that motherfucker, man, if ever you fucked with him? Oh my god! His brother Cracker Jay was a big dude, like Baby Huey – a big-ass motherfucker but he was like a sweetheart, teddy bear. Fuck with him, man, he’d crush you.
Breeze was Smooth B before there was a Smooth B. Smooth B bit that shit off of him, actually. And I grew-up with Greg Nice in the Bronx, before I moved to Long Island, so I knew them motherfuckers for a long time, man. Smooth B wasn’t anywhere near anything when my man was doing that shit.
Did he used to harmonize like Nice & Smooth did later?
JJ: Yeah! Breeze would sing on shit all the time. This shit materialized because of what happened. Breeze and Double D had routines that nobody knew about, because them motherfuckers invented them before they got down with the Kings Of Pressure. That ‘Nozy Bodies’ record? That was really a Breeze and Double D routine, and it wasn’t that fast. It was real slow and it was crazy. If we woulda did the album the way we really wanted to do it, initially, it would’ve been fuckin’ bananas.
When the album came out a lot of people were expecting it to all sound like ‘Armed And Dangerous’…
JJ: ‘Armed And Dangerous’ was bananas, man. That was my shit! [Recreates the beat] Fuckin’ took that ‘Future Shock’ shit by Curtis… Whoooo! That was the one, man.”
So how long were you in the military?
JJ: I was there for six years, from 88 to 94. I was stationed in, as I call it, ‘No fuck vagina’ – Norfolk, Virginia. I was out there doing my thing before Iraq. Before that, Leaders Of The New School were working on their album. Me and Charlie Brown graduated together. Actually, me and Charlie Brown went to try out for Kings Of Pressure together, Charlie Brown wasn’t Charlie Brown – he was KB MC, Busta was called MC Chill-O-Ski – because he was a part of our group – and I was DJ Johnny Juice. The line for the fuckin’ battle was so long. I’m like, ‘Fuck it, let’s do this shit!’
I won the deejay section, which is how I got down with the Kings Of Pressure, but Brown lost the emcee portion. I would still bring him to the studio, so eventually Chuck was like ‘Aight’. He put him down with another group and made him part of Leaders Of The New School. I knew Brown for years, man; I knew Busta even longer! I used to tutor him in school, too. I was one of them ‘advanced students’ and shit. I would get extra credit if I tutored other students. My crew was originally Brown and Busta and another dude named Ian, who was incredible, but he stopped doing music a while ago. We went to that little contest because we wanted to be down, and that’s how we did our thing. I did the scratching on ‘Transformers’ on the Leaders’ first album, as a favor. I came home from the Navy for a weekend and Brown was like, ‘Yo, yo, yo, we going in the studio tonight. You wanna come through?’ I went through and did it real quick.
The next night, A Tribe Called Quest was doing ‘Scenario’. I got pictures of that shit, too. It was me, Dinco, Busta, Jarobi was there – everybody was in that motherfucker – Dres from Black Sheep was there, both of ’em, Chris Lighty, Mase and Pos from De La, all them motherfuckers rhymed on ‘Scenario’. I can’t find that copy – I have that tape somewhere in my archives, lost in my attic or some shit. Everybody rhymed on it but Q-Tip, and the best motherfucker on that shit was Posdnuos. He fuckin’ destroyed it, and he ain’t even like the beat! And after he finished rhyming, everybody went back and rewrote their rhymes!
We was at Unique Studio, that motherfucker finished rhyming, he came out and goes, ‘That shit was wack.’ That’s what Pos said. In the middle of his shit, everybody was like, ‘Damn, yo!’ That’s how nice that shit was. He made ’em turn off all the samples, ‘cos they had like 15 samples in there. They had an ‘Engine Number 9′ sample, that shit by Wilson Pickett, they had four or five samples on there that came on for different people, and Pos didn’t like none of ’em so he just rhymed to the drums, and that motherfucker destroyed it. That shit wasn’t even close.
So how come they took Pos and them off the final version?
JJ: I have no idea. Mr Lawnge from Black Sheep rhymed one of the verses from [a song] he eventually put on his album – which was real wack – and Baby Chris Lighty’s shit was horrible. He’s not a rapper.
That take must go on for over ten minutes?!
JJ: Yo, I remember the rhymes on that shit, man. Phife said: ‘Slammin’ emcees like if my name was Ric Flair/But since I’m dark just call me Coco Beware!’ That shit was crazy. Dres ripped that shit, he said some shit about, ‘Never chose to listen, never chose to look/Never saw the movie, never read the book/Never something something/Never read the paper/Like Encyclopedia Brown I chose to close the caper!’ Even Mase rhymed! Mase’s shit was dope. He said: ‘I got gift of gab and gift of hustle/Yeah I’m fat but I still got muscle/Some motherfuckers still wanna tussle/I smack that ass without no trouble.’ That shit was kinda funky.
So you have that version of ‘Scenario’ on cassette?
JJ:Yeah, but I can’t find it. When I made a copy of it, it wasn’t finished – I didn’t realise that later it would be a totally different song and it would become the song it did. Now I’m pissed off that I can’t find that shit! Four or five people that I know that heard that tape at one time are like, ‘Juice, you have to find that fuckin’ tape!’ It doesn’t even say ‘Scenario’ on it – it actually says ‘Unique Recording’ right on it, on a black TDK tape. I remember that shit to this day and I can’t find that bitch!
You also recorded vocals with Rob Swift, right?
JJ: I met Rob when I was up at Loud Records, ‘cos I was ‘sposed to meet up with Pun – me and Brown, actually, ‘cos I was working on Brown’s album. This is maybe 98 or 97, and I ran into The X-Ecutioners. I was like, ‘Oh, shit! I love you guys’ work, man.’ They didn’t have an album out yet, they just got signed to Loud. Rob was saying, ‘Thanks. Yo, what’s your name?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, Johnny Juice’. Rob was like, ‘Get the fuck out! Johnny Juice?! Yo! Gimme your number, man!’ I was buggin’ out. I didn’t even know he knew who the fuck I was. So I gave him my number and he called me that night. We talked like four hours, man. He was telling me how he used to listen to me on the radio – I used to be on the radio with Chuck and them, way back before we made records, in Long Island.
That’s how me and Rob became friends, and I started training with Rob because I was still good at scratching, but I just came home from the military so my scratching wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Everybody expanded and got a lot better. I got a little better, but I was stationed mostly on the west coast, and them motherfuckers weren’t really that good, with the exception of the Bay Area dudes. I was in San Diego, so I was like, ‘I need to step up my game.’ So I started practicing a lot. But when I met Rob I stepped my game up a lot more, and he got me to the point where I was able to hang with everybody that was out now. So my scratching never missed a beat, and now I’ll do something with Q-Bert or some of these dudes, and a lot of ’em will be like, ‘Goddamn, you still good!’ I’m like, ‘What, am I supposed to be wack?’
A lot of old school dudes, the best they are now is as good as they used to be, but everybody’s done surpassed that because there’s new techniques and all this shit. Me? I’m able to do all the new shit these young kids can do now.
Did you ever compete in the DMCs?
JJ: Yeah, I was in the DMC finals in 87. I think I won that, actually. I was runner-up in the 88 New Music Seminar Battle For Supremacy, behind [DJ] Scratch. That was fucked-up because my needles got stolen at that event, along with half of my records. That’s the night Mikey D battled Melle Mel, and Melle Mel took his belt and left.
So Son Of Bazerk, what happened after your album and ‘What Could Be Better Bitch’?
SOB: We came with a whole ‘nother album after that, and Hank Shocklee rejected my second album. Then he said, ‘Go back to the drawing board.’ So we went back and did a third album. He rejected that. Then after that, I guess I figured it wasn’t the talent that was at question – he had a more personal vendetta with me. I think he had beef with me, man. That’s the reason we never came back out. That’s when me and him really started falling out.
Did he give you a reason why he rejected the album?
SOB: He said he’s not feeling it, but everybody else is feeling it. He’s not feeling it. Okay, so we go back and do another album. He’s not feeling that. So I realised it’s not the record – it’s me! He got a problem with me! It was a beef! He wouldn’t release me from my contract, and he wouldn’t put out my records! That’s why I had to sit around for like seven years and do nothing. He just fucked-up business, man. That was the whole thing right there.
So that put you off emceeing?
SOB: I couldn’t work! I couldn’t do nothing else. I couldn’t go to no other record company because I was signed with S.O.U.L. Records. Who would wanna sign me, being that I was signed with someone else? Hank Shocklee at that.
Did you used to roll with Kings Of Pressure in the early days?
SOB: Yeah. What happened was, the guys in my group – the Son Of Bazerk group – there were three of us; we were the Townhouse Three. Like he said, Hank had all these different names for groups and stuff. He just changed our name to Son Of Bazerk. But anyway, Kings of Pressure was losing members. I guess a few guys went away or whatever, and Hank tried to put us with them. We did maybe one or two songs with them guys. One called ‘Funky President’, a solo song that I did by myself, and ‘Call Me On The Telephone’. It was a slow song, a Stylistics remake.”
That was on the ‘Slang Teacher’ album wasn’t it?
SOB: I don’t think it ever came out. I remember hearing it again – they gave it to Mary J Blige!
So Townhouse Three was your very first group?
SOB: Yeah. They had all these names for groups, but they had no groups to fill ’em. So that’s when I came in – I just took the name. I mean come on, that was the only way we could get the deal – if I be Son Of Bazerk. We didn’t know nothing about the business anyway. We just wanted to make records! They took full advantage of that. He wouldn’t release my records and he wouldn’t release me from my contract. He left me standing there! I don’t care, I do not give a fuck about Hank. He would rather see me live in a cardboard box!
JJ: He left my name off Slick Rick’s album – Slick Rick’s shit! I did some good work on that album! My name ain’t even on that shit.”
SOB: And Hank’s name is all over the shit. He didn’t do nothin’! Johnny did all the scratching and some of the beats on there! His name wasn’t even on it! Nowhere! And you know who they said did the scratching? On the back of the album it says: ‘Scratching: Hank Shocklee; Programming: Hank Shocklee; Written: Hank Shocklee!’” [Note: Vance Wright was actually credited with scratching on the album].
JJ: He wasn’t even in the studio most of the time.
SOB: Even on my album: ‘Written by Son Of Bazerk and Hank Shocklee’.
Were you involved with the music for songs like ‘Change The Style’?
SOB: I would come with music, then they would just take the music, switch it around, put some stuff on top of it and call it theirs! I would come with the sample and everything: ‘This is how I want it.’ I’d come back later, they’ve got guitars and stuff on top of it, keyboards and all this shit. Nothing what I gave them, but then they call it theirs! Shiesty shit! One of the most dirtiest motherfuckers I even seen in my life!”
Did you do a lot of shows in Long Island before your deal?
SOB: Yeah, we did a lot of shows as Townhouse Three. We didn’t really do too many shows after we got with Hank and ’em.
Do you have any plans to release the two albums that were rejected?
SOB: I would love to, but if not I’m gonna do some new stuff. Just trying to put everything back in perspective right now.
Kings of Pressure – ‘Armed and Dangerous’
Kings of Pressure – ‘You Know How To Reach Us
Son of Bazerk – ‘Are You Wit Me’
Rob Swift feat. Johnny Juice – ‘Musical Negra’ (Remix)
Public Enemy – ‘Air Conditioning’ (Produced by DJ Johnny Juice)
Son of Bazerk – ‘Change The Style’ video:
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