Filed under: Great Moments In Rap,Interviews,Print Work,Rap A Lot For Life,Steady Bootleggin',Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Even though Rap-A-Lot Records is closely associated with Houston’s 5th Ward, most of the groups on the early roster were originally from New Jersey or New York, which resulted in some interesting blends of styles. The Def IV’s Nice & Hard album is a perfect example, as it introduced an upbeat, sample-heavy sound that was light-years ahead of the usual Texas slow-flow of the era. DJ Vicious Lee breaks down his time with the crew and his later work with the Geto Boys and Gangster N-I-P.
Robbie: I had the Def IV record back in the day and then I found the CD the other day and it had two extra songs.
DJ Vicious Lee: Oh OK, so you had the wax version and then you got the CD? “Buggin’ Out Time” was a Lonnie Mack DJ record. The CD’s been in my car ever since I had it. Cee lives in Manhatten – The Prince EZ Cee, now he’s DJ Peter Parker. Him and Wiz live together. Now Wiz produced the music to “Get Busy”.
The credits said “Produced by Doug King and James Smith”, and then co-produced by you guys, but I know that the credits on records are not always a true representation of what happened.
Exactly. My name is nowhere on Geto Boys We Can’t Be Stopped album. They got me good on that one.
So what was your involvement with that?
I did the entire pre-production, in the beginning.
That was a great album.
Yeah. That was the first one that Rap-A-Lot had go platinum. The first platinum album they ever put out.
I was reading that the Convicts were out at the same time as that album blew-up, and Rap-A-Lot just focused on -
Well, when we came out it was us, Royal Flush, Raheem – who was an original Ghetto Boy…
He was out on A&M Records, wasn’t he?
Right. Well now, we got signed because of the A&M deal. Us and Royal Flush got signed. It was the Ghetto Boys by themselves, and then Raheem started to do this individual project, and then A&M got wind of it. They picked him up, and said, ‘Look, we want four groups’. So Rap-A-Lot needed two more groups, so they signed us and Royal Flush.
Were you guys all from Texas, or from Jersey?
Actually, within the Def IV, nobody was from Texas. DJ Reddy Red was actually an original member of the Def IV. When we first formed the group, Red was with us. Red’s from Trenton, I’m originally from Brooklyn but had moved to Houston from Philadelphia, EZ-Cee is from Brooklyn and my brother DJ Jon B is from Brooklyn. Now Wiz, who is a defacto – he’s like a member of the Def IV now, if the Def IV still existed now, he would still be in and my brother would not be in. Because at one point, we had changed personell. My brother left the group and Wiz joined as a performing member of the group. The original Def IV is myself, EZ-Cee, DJ Jon B and DJ Reddy Red. Red left and went to the Ghetto Boys, in comes DJ Lonnie Mac, and that’s the Def IV that you see on the album. We did the first album with Rap-A-Lot, and then when we left Rap-A-Lot my brother went back to New York and Wiz came in, and we did another album that never came out. I’m tryin’ to get it, Wiz has the only copy of it. He’s got it on DAT tape somewhere. Him and Cee live together in the same apartment, and they’re up in Spanish Harlem. The Def IV was basically a group of DJs.
Oh yeah, I remember that song that goes “two DJs and a beat creator”…
Right. Oh, come on, man. You know your stuff! If you’d ever saw any of our shows, we did a lot of DJ trick stuff. Because our songs were not really national hits here, our shows had to be above and beyond. We were opening up for people like Chubb Rock, D-Nice…the first show we ever did was with Eric B. & Rakim and the 2 Live Crew, and the 2 Live Crew didn’t perform. The promoter ended up getting another show with them, and we ended up doing a show with the 2 Live Crew, the Ghetto Boys and us. We couldn’t just go out there and sing our song and throw all the audience that way, because everybody didn’t know our songs from hearing them over and over again, everyday.
So they couldn’t sing along – or rap along to it.
Exactly, yeah. So our shows had to be above and beyond just the normal “play our records and rap over it”. We had to do more than that. So we did a lotta DJ stuff, a lot of crowd participation stuff. It was really hard for people to come on behind us, actually.
Even on the record, there were so many different samples and cuts coming in, it wasn’t just a loop or whatever.
What we tried to do in the music creation part, was to bring together the styles that we all came with, as a group. Lonnie is originally from Chicago, he came with that kind of flavor, but we were all kinda East coast flavor, coming to Texas. Texas was really in the process of forming themselves as a rap identity. It was pretty wide open. What we tried to do was come with a different flavor – everybody was using an 808 and rapping slow and country – and we didn’t come from that. That wasn’t how we was living.
They were on the Too $hort tip.
Right. We tried to sample as much stuff as we could. We took every machine That we ever used to it’s capacity, and then found ways to really put it all together. Once we filled the machine up, we were like, ‘Well, OK, how can we can fit some more stuff in here?’ Wiz had an SP-12. Not the SP1200, the old one. It didn’t have any discs, I think you had to buy a Commodore 64 disc drive or an Atari disc drive to hook up to it, or dump out on tape or something like that. ‘Get Busy’ was done completely on an SP-12. The rest of the stuff was done on a Studio 440, by Sequential Circuit, and a 8-track. If you listen to our demos, all our songs we did as DJs, thinking of how we would do it if we had enough DJ’s to play the music, because sampling wasn’t…we hadn’t had a chance to play with the technology. We knew about it though. We had an old Korg drum machine, so we laid some beats. Reddy Red had a 909 – if you listen to ‘Outlaw’ can hear the 909 in that.
The first Royal Flush album sounded like drum machines with breaks cut live over the top.
I think they got to use the E-3, cos this guy named Carl who was doing a lot of the production…he did Raheem’s album, and I think he worked with Flush and he started working with us. Carl came from a techno background, so he was playing Oberheim expander keyboards and stuff like that, and we was like “Yo, what we need is a sampler. Can we get a SP-1200 up in here?” He’s like “What’s that?” So they ended-up buying the Emulator 3 – it was still sitting on the stand at the E-3 when they bought it. It hadn’t even been tested well yet. The company went out a bought an E-3 for Carl, so they got the other machine for the Ghetto Boys. After the Ghetto Boys album, we got to use the Sequential Circuit, but by then it was beat half to death. Red had it at his house – the pad’s was flattened out on to the top of the console – but we worked with it. We took it apart, put it back together again. Went over to Doug’s house and kinda camped over at Doug’s house for a bout a month and juts knocked the album out.
So was Raheem’s the first Rap-A-Lot album, even though it was on A&M?
The Ghetto Boys had one first. They had the ‘Car Freaks’ single then they had the Makin’ Trouble album. ‘Car Freaks’ was a very, very local single. That was when the Ghetto Boys was James Smith’s little brother K-9, The Sire Jukebox and Raheem, which were the original Ghetto Boys.
Was Bushwick the dancer back then?
No, Bushwick wasn’t even in the picture yet. Bushwick came after Red. Red went to the Ghetto Boys when K-9 left. He went the Def IV, which was not a signed group yet, and went to Rap-A-Lot to be the Ghetto Boys DJ. K-9 left the group and that left Jukebox. Raheem wanted to go solo, and they let him go solo and Red called his homeboy from Trenton – Johnny C – down, and the Ghetto Boys became Reddy Red, The Sire Jukebox and Prince Johnny C. Those were the Ghetto Boys when we got signed, and Raheem as a solo artist. That’s when A&M came in and said “Well, the Ghetto Boys need to clean-up their act”. They tried to make the Ghetto Boys into a Public Enemy sorta thing. They had to do a clean album for the A&M deal. They start working on this clean album, Raheem goes out to California – he’s seventeen years old – and gets drunk before a listening party for all the A&M staff. Tommy Mottola, Janet Jackson, Vester Williams, the whole A&M…we’re talking ’87-’88. Raheem gets drunk before the show and goes out and reverts back to his Ghetto Boys mentality, ‘All the bitches in the house!’ I mean just lost it. That blew the deal with A&M, they dropped him at that point, but at this point Royal Flush and us had already been signed and our albums worked on. We were supposed to go under the A&M distribution umbrella too, but now we’re all back to just Rap-A-Lot distribution. SO now us and Royal Flush, there was another group that was going in called 2 Bad Brothers, the Convicts – but the Convicts were more on the Ghetto Boys-type level – Raheem’s album, our album, Royal Flush’s album were done for commercial radio, because that’s what A&M wanted. The Ghetto Boys reverted back to their normal selves, and nobody ever heard the clean album [laughs] and they just redid everything and put the cursing back in it and went back to business as normal. But we were stuck in the commercial vein and Rap-A-Lot as a company wasn’t ready to handle us a commercial venture, as a commercial venture. They were fine underground, they could do plenty underground with the Ghetto Boys and that’s what ended-up happening, so that’s when we ended-up leaving.
They didn’t have the pull to get radio spins.
Right. The Ghetto Boys stuff wasn’t about radio, it was about riding around in cars and stuff you might here at the club.
That “Obsession” track that you guys did must’ve been the first time that the Barry White…
…loop was used. If you listen to our album and you put it in time-line context, every sample that you hear on that album, we used first.
Even “School Boy Crush”?
‘School Boy Crush’ was the first song we did as a group. It was because Magic 102 down there had a DJ who commissioned us to do a back-to school song in 1986. “School Boy Crush” was that song, it just didn’t come out until ’88.
That’s pretty advanced for ’86, to have a loop like that.
You shoulda saw us, man. We were scrambling, trying to put stuff together. My step-father’s a DJ down in Houston, he’s been a Blues DJ and Disco DJ since the ‘70s, named Dr. Freddy Brown. He was a big influence, he had a record collection that we were able to pull. All of the stuff that you heard on the album were original samples too, we pulled them off the original records.
No Ultimate Beats & Breaks.
No. They didn’t even know about Ultimate Beats and Breaks down in Houston. We ordered the entire set when they were at 15, coz we did need some stuff, the stuff that everybody had begun to start using. Even the CJ & Company ‘We Got Our Own Thing’ on the song “Our Own Style’, if you listen to it, it sounds a lot like Heavy D, don’t it? Let me tell you a little story about that. In the midst of the Raheem California debarcle and us leaving Rap-A-Lot, Teddy Riley comes to Houston after hearing our album and wants to do remixes on three of the songs. He just wanted us to go ahead and put his name on there. He liked the concepts, he was like, ‘Yo, these boys can be hot’. We did a show with Wrecks-N-Effect and that’s where he saw us. Rap-A-Lot turned the deal down. Told him, ‘We don’t need New York to succeed’.
They were too proud to accept any help?
Right. We had connections with Red Alert, whenever those guys came to town, they came and saw us. Coz we were from New York, we knew these guys from back in the day when we were all carrying crates of records. Now our record company is shitting on our friends that could do something for us. So Rap-A-Lot tell Teddy Riley, ‘We don’t need no help from you’, and about three months later Heavy D’s album came out. There are three songs on Heavy D’s album that either use the same premise or context or the actual title of the song is the same. ‘We Got Our Own Thing’? We had a song called ‘Our Own Style’, cos we didn’t want to do it exactly like that, but we pulled it from the same song – and that was one of the songs Teddy wanted to do. Heavy D blew-up on that song!
Do you know why Raheem later made a song [“Invincible”] going at Royal Flush and OG Style?
When I did the Ghetto Boys album I was working at a company called BPM Productions, which was owned by Doug King. I ended-up going to New York in 1990 for a funeral and I was going to go to production and engineering school at the Institute of Audio Research in New York, but I had to come back home and deal with my then baby’s mama, down in Houston. When I came back, Doug had been looking for me. Him and a guy named B-2 who was affiliated with Royal Flush. They had started this company called BPM Productions and they needed an engineer to run the studio, so instead of me going to school, I went right to work in the studio! Rap-A-Lot hired BPM to do a couple of albums – one was the Geto Boys We Can’t Be Stopped album and I also did Gangster NIP, the first Psycho album. I did the original Psycho song with NIP. While we were in the studio, Raheem comes in. Now BPM Studios is basically a thousand square feet of office space divided into rooms with sheetrock walls. Raheem comes in and says, ‘Listen to this’. It was me, NIP and John Bido, working on NIP’s stuff. We throw the cassette in and we listen, and it’s this song dissing this guy B-2. By this time B-2 has left BPM Productions and has moved into another office in the same office complex. I guess he see’s Raheem’s car or something at BPM – he comes from his office and walks into the studio and just sits on the back of a chair. He turns a chair around and just sits on the back of the chair, and he’s listening to this song that’s basically about him being a bitch and a hoe and all kinds of ‘dick sucking’…me and NIP are looking at each other like, ‘Damn!’, and I look up and I see B-2 standing behind us. B-2 slams Raheem with this chair and the fight is on! These niggas is rumbling, they going through walls – they tore the entire studio up! The turntable that had the entire collection of Ultimate Beats & Breaks stacked-up on top of it, the six-foot table hit the floor with the turntable on it, and the records. Raheem has a .25 automatic in his pocket – Lord 3-2 was there, from the Convicts, and another kid who used to hang-out with B-2 – Raheem reaches in his pocket to pull the gun out, while him and Raheem is wrassling. The boy sees what Raheem is trying to do and pushes Raheem’s hand back in his pocket – the gun goes off, shoots Raheem in the leg. This is all going on in the studio now! [laughs] Now Raheem is dazed, he’s getting hit, he’s shot and he’s down on all fours, trying to crawl away. B-2 rears back with a Timberland boot and kicks Raheem in the head and kicks him straight, completely out. He was on his back after the kick, unconscious, and B-2 left. We had to call an ambulance, the police…all kinds of craziness going on.
That OG Style song “I Know How To Play ‘Em” was about Raheem as well, right?
It was weird, within the Rap-A-Lot family it was such a 5th Ward mentality. None of my group was from Texas at all, much less 5th Ward, Raheem was from Jersey but lived in 5th Ward. Royal Flush and them were from the South West side, but they were from Jersey too. I think Eric from OG Style is from Jersey.
I saw a photo of Bushwick wearing a cape and shit.
Bill would wear anything. I saw Bill snatch his pants off at a party. He threw a pair of $95 silk pants off and threw ‘em up on the lights. Dana Dane was in Texas at that time and was so drunk that he could not do “Cinderfella”. Willie D did a version of it! We had a lot of good times, man. The death of NC Trayhan was one of the bad things. NC was like Jay’s right hand. He got killed the day of Raheem’s video, that’s the day he got shot. If you have a look at the video and you see a big black and gold Mercedes coming over a hill? That’s the Def IV. I’m in the video a lot, actually.Jay had bought a club in the northside, and called it the Rhinestone Wrangler. There was always a Rhinestone Wrangler in Houston, but when the one on the southside closed down, Jay opened up one on the north side. It was like Rap-A-Lot’s home, all our pictures were up on the wall outside.
Was that a strip club?
Nah, it’s always been a hip-hop club. That’s where they found [Reddy] Red at. The Ghetto Boys were at the one that was on the southside when they met Red, and that’s how he became a Ghetto Boy, when they saw him DJ. A couple of years later, we’re at the club and NC gets into some beef with somebody. NC and Bill had been riding together in a blue astro van all day – the whole time we shooting the video – done, went to the club. NC gets into beef with somebody and goes outside, and the police tell him to leave the premisis. Mind you, he was like a co-owner of the club, only they don’t know ‘cos they had just gotten the club. So the guys [he had beef with] pull off first. Me and Bill are standing outside with him, the cops are tellin us, ‘Either go back inside or leave!’ We’re like, ‘Yo, man! Don’t you see our pictures are right here!?’ I’m talkin’ bout the outside of the club was adorned with pictures of everyone in Rap-A-Lot. So we tryin’ to go, NC’s like, ‘Nah, I gotta do this by myself’. He gets in the van, he drives across the street to where the guys had drove to. The guy was in a gold cadillac and was getting’ out of his car when NC hits him with the van! But he knocks him to the back of the car and the guy in the passenger seat pops the trunk, the guy pulls a sawed-off shotgun out of the trunk of the car, sticks it in the van and blows NC’s face off. This happened so quickly that me and Bill are still standing outside. And hear the shot. We run across the street, and when we get there…he’s sittin’ in the driver’s seat of the car, facing forward. The front surface of his face is facing the back of the van. Bill was sitting in his lap…I’m sittin’ in the passenger seat of the van, talkin’ to him – and he’s dying. That was the worst thing that happened to me, and I ended up going to jail behind it! For crying, because my friend died. I’m walking around, saying, ‘He can’t be dead, he can’t be dead!’
That’s messed up.
How was the legendary Willie D in the studio?
When we was working on the song ‘Trophy’, in the song Willie D says ‘9 times out of ten it’ll be some country westren!’ He don’t say ‘western’, he says ‘westren’! We recordin’, 8-track’s rollin’, Willie D rappin’….’nine times out of ten it’ll be some country westren!’ I stop the tape, I’m like, ‘Willie, listen to this. Do you hear what you just said?’ So I played it back. He said, ‘Yeah! Country Westren’. I said, ‘Willie, the word is western‘ He was like, ‘Come on Vicious Lee, you know I’m country, man! Turn that tape back on, man! Let’s just do this here’. I turned the tape back on. If you listen to this album to this day, its says ‘County Westren’! Now Willie is the king of the rhyme, I’ve gotta give it to him. He can make the word ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ rhyme! ‘I treat a bitch like a queen, but she best not forget I’m the god-damn king!’
I was at the gold release party for the Geto Boys, and I said, ‘J, everyone want one of those gold records. I’mma tell you now, I don’t want one until it goes platinum. And when it goes platinum I want you to give me 5 G’s too, coz I’mma tell you that it’s going platinum, just cos I had something to do with it.’ He said, ‘Vicious Lee, you crazy!’ I said, ‘Am I that crazy that you ain’t gonna take me up on it?’ He said, ‘If this record go platinum, you’ve got one of the first ones, and I’ll cut you this check’. Low and behold, when it went platinum I got a call from J. He was like ‘I don’t know what it was, but I’ve got a check for you up here, and you can pick up your record’. It actually got me bumped-up to first class on a plane once. I wasn’t checking-it – it was my carry-on! So I’m on the plane and they’re like ‘Well, we can’t put you back there. We’re gonna put you in first class!’ The stewardess came and sat down, ‘Oh, I love the Geto Boys!’ ‘Let me have one of them vodka and orange juices or whatever…’
Def IV - ‘We Don’t Play’
Def IV - ‘We Don’t Play’
Raheem - ‘Invincible’
Raheem ‘Dance Floor’ video:
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