Filed under: Biters In The City,Crates,Features,G Rap Week,Great Moments In Rap,In The Trenches,Interviews,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',Uptown Kicking It
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Sometimes there’s more to being a legendary rapper than classic records. You might have heard Silver Fox on one of the three 12” singles he released as part of the Fantasy Three, but his legacy runs a lot deeper than a mere mid-80’s footnote. Having established a reputation as formidable MC through battling at parties and clubs all over New York, this Grant Houses resident from Harlem would soon go on to mentor two of hip-hop’s greatest lyricists – LL Cool J and Kool G Rap. Considering that the lyrical techniques Fox passed onto Kool G Rap were adopted by everyone from Big Daddy Kane, Big L to Nas, it’s clear that his influence is still being felt to this day.
Robbie: How old were you when you started writing rhymes?
Silver Fox: I was an old head – I was 21 years-old. When I started, the only people older than me were Melle Mel and them. I had went to Alaska in ’75, when hip-hop had already started – but I wasn’t really into it then. I was into the Funk era – Brass Construction, BT Express. When I came back, I went back to the projects where I grew-up at. Then I see these guys out here with these turntables and this music and stuff, and they were swiping the electricity from the lamp posts. I was like, ‘Man, what are these guys doing?’ It was amazing to me. So I came out there and I listened to ‘em, then I went to the crib, wrote a rhyme down and I came down the next day like, ‘Yeah! I got it!’ And it was butt! I mean my rap was pure garbage! I made some ol’ Mickey Mouse rhyme – and I mean that literally! My brother snatched me off the stage like he was saving my life – like somebody was throwing a bomb at me or something. He grabbed me, ‘Nooooooo!’ He literally took me off of there. My brother Wes, he took me in the staircase and he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t know what you was doin’, man – but that’s not it! That was garbage.’ I was like, ‘Well, OK. How is it done then? What you think I should be doing?’ One of them type of numbers, right? So then he started bangin’ on the staircase, going, ‘Boom-bap! Ba-boom, boom-bap!’ And he started going, ‘The W-E the S-S-U and when I be on the mic I play it real cool/They call me Wessu, so I’m tellin’ the tale – the bad, bad brother that likes to throw down!’ I was like, ‘I’m the R-E double G-I-E…’ At first I was calling myself Reggie Reg, but then I found out that somebody else name was Reggie Reg. There was three of ‘em. So now I had to think of another thing. There was a thing for the Audi ‘Fox’, and it was the silver edition, and they called it the Silver Fox! I said, ‘Oh man! That is bad! I like that, man’. So now I was Silver Fox. Now I’m writing, I’m spending all my time writing and writing and memorizing. I got this crazy memory, man – things just stay up in my head, like books and stuff – so all these rhymes, I just started memorizing.
So how did things develop from there?
I had a big reputation as far as street rhymes. I was just all through the street before I even made records. I was goin’ everywhere, rappin’. I had a after hours spot that I’d go through – it was called Joe Grants. That’s where I would actually perfect my skills, ‘cos they let me get on there every week. So every week I’m writing new stuff and I’m trying it out on the crowd. Mostly I would try to battle people. I was looking for Moe Dee, but he didn’t want to see me! [laughs] I was basically a renegade – I was a rogue with my stuff. I’d just go places and jump on they mics and I hit it and I’m out! A lot of these guys like Moe and ‘em, they were from around my block. I grew-up on 125th Street and Amsterdam in New York. The Fearless Four – they’re from around my area. Doug E. Fresh is from 126th Street, Moe Dee is from 129th Street, so we were all close to each other. My thing was, in order for me to get on the map I gotta find out who’s good and take ‘em put! I gotta battle somebody so they can know who I am. I’m known by MC’s – all the rappers know me and they know what I do. When they guys were recording I was still out there trying to get a name for himself.
I used to go to the projects in Manhattan ‘cos there’s thousands of people living on a block, and in each of these neighborhoods there’s somebody’s who’s the best in that hood. So I’m like, ‘OK, I want to battle him!’ I go to clubs or I go to their spots – I was a crazy guy in my younger days, man. I’d be smoking weed, I’d be drinking brew, and a lot of the times when I went to these places I didn’t know who these cats was – all I knew was I was ready to battle. There was a lotta cats that knew about me already, before I got there. I would be in a dark spot, leaning against the wall – listening to ‘em, lookin’ at ‘em – sizing them up. Going, ‘Yeah, I could take them’. A lotta cats that I battled – they ripped their rhyme books up and go start writing some more. I had no mercy. And then I started to shake hands with guys [afterwards], ‘cos I’m thinking, ‘C’mon man, it’s alright. I’ll tell you what you did wrong!’ So now I got people that know me, that be like, ‘Yo, Silver Fox? That’s my dude, man. I remember when we hung-out one night.’ Now this guy is talking about, in my lifetime, this cat is talking about one night that he hung out with me. I will break bread with rappers – I’ll sit down and share a sub with you. But I do that and it’s, ‘Yo man, Fox is alright, man. I remember that time, man, I was hangin’ out with him, man. We battled, and then we sat down and we had a sub, man! And some chicken! And he said such-and-such to this girl!’ I’m like, ‘How I am I to remember all of that?’
Were you rolling with a crew to all these spots?
Nah, I did a lotta stuff by myself. But I had this one guy with me who called himself Kev-Ski. He was part of the hip-hop scene since the real old school with guys like [DJ] Hollywood and Eddie Cheeba. He knew the places to go to where the MC’s were at, ‘cos I didn’t know.
But weren’t you ever worried that if you step into someone’s party and humiliate the MC’s there that someone might try to jump you?
Nah, ‘cos I was more diplomatic with it. I didn’t go there looking battle people – I went there to get on the mic and let people hear my stuff. But then these cats would creep out the wood-work and try to diss me! Guys would be telling me that someone had said, ‘Silver Fox ain’t nuttin’! Let him come around here – I’ll battle him! I’ll tear that kid up!’ Then here go my boy, my good ‘ol buddy, ‘Yo Fox, KG said he wanna battle you. KG said you ain’t shit! He said he wished you would come around his way!’ ‘Oh yeah? Where KG live at?’ ‘He’s gonna be at this party around the way…’ I just wanted to go anywhere and be recognized as an MC, like these other guys.
What can you tell me about the Fantasy Three?
Fantasy Three was me, Charlie Rock and Larry D. We had an independent label, we was on Specific Records. We did a record called ‘It’s Your Rock’, and what got us over was OC’s remix on the b-side. So now people playin’ the b-side and all I had to do was go, ‘Silver Fox! Silver Fox! Silver Fox!’ So now I could go to clubs with two of those and I’m rapping off of my beat that I had. I’m taking that and I’m running with it. Now the Trash Crew are biting off us. When they came out with that song ‘On The Radio’, it was the same music. I sat with Pumpkin and him and I actually constructed this music, so I know every note, every key, every drum beat. And these guys, the Crash Crew, they had our original music! I couldn’t fathom for the life of me how they got it. So we formed our own label – CCL Records – which was what our next record was on. It was called ‘Biters In The City’.
Didn’t they step to you at a show?
Yeah. In 1984, at Broadway International Disco. We had arranged a battle with them, ‘cos I was really dissing ‘em on the radio. All through New York I was on the radio calling ‘em ‘The Trash Crew’, saying, ‘Y’all can’t deal with me!’ So then we set-up a battle. Now we’re doing our record, they did they record, now it was time for us to battle – so I battled them myself. My boys, they didn’t want to get on, for some reason or other – Larry D and Charlie. But after a while of me battling ‘em, then they came out and they did they thing also. So after I got off stage these guys stepped to me – the Crash Crew – ‘cos they wanted to fight. They wasn’t ready to battle, they just wanted to fight, so we had some physical altercations. Master OC from the Fearless Four, he was cutting for me, so he cut the music and we was just fighting! [laughs] We were just throwing down inside the place. It was crazy.
Who actually won the fight?
I didn’t get hurt – I got dirty, though. I wasn’t trying to fight them guys, I was trying to back-off from them – ‘cos I’m in a party! ‘Y’all wanna fight?’ I pulled off my belt – my buckle said FOX on it. I wanted to keep them a distance from me ‘cos there were five of ‘em, and they were all coming at me. So I start swinging – boom, boom, boom! The thing is, the people from where they live at was battling the people from where I’m from! So there was so many fights goin’ on in there, ‘cos my peoples like, ‘Yo man, nobody’s touching Fox!’ And then they people was like, ‘Yo, we gonna fight!’ ‘Cos I just put a bruise to they ego! [laughs] When I left outta there, I had some white pants on – my white pants were all dirty and grimy and stuff – and I went to the record shop. Around the corner from the record shop that we owned was a little social club called La Familia. My partners that was down with me, they Puerto Rican – that’s how I learned my Spanish – and I was in that club after the battle, sittin’ there drinking champagne and talking ‘bout, ‘Man, I ripped ‘em’. Everybody was chanting for us because we represented our hood where we from, and I was talking about them on the radio so much and I represented and I didn’t back down from them.
Can you tell me more about the ‘Biters In The City’ record?
The whole thing, everything except for the sixteen bars that my boys did, I wrote! That was battle rhyme that I was gonna use for Moe Dee! Charlie came with sixteen bars and Larry came with his sixteen. Larry was a hungry guy too, he was hungry for it. He kept working to get the rhymes going so he could become an MC, except me and Charlie had beef so much, because he wanted the music to go in another direction. He wanted us to become singers after a while. I’m like, ‘I’ll sing a bit – I don’t mind – but I’m not gonna be singing all the way! We rip! I’m a MC, man. I’m into rap! That’s my thing, that’s what I do and that’s what I perfected at!’ And the thing I didn’t like also was our name – Fantasy?! Here we are, we surrounded by the Fearless Four, the Treacherous Three, the Furious Five…and then along comes Fantasy Three! I’m like, ‘That’s soft, man! That makes anybody wanna battle us! I’m Silver Fox, man. My name rings bells, man!’ We came with another joint called ‘Summer’ with ‘The Buck Stops Here’ on the b-side. ‘The Buck…’ was supposed to be my springboard because was having a lotta internal struggles within our group, so I’m like, ‘Well if things don’t work out I can at least do The Buck as my solo’. Everything was bad – our label was bad, our management was bad. We almost had a contract with Polygram Records, but we couldn’t got out of the contract that we was in. Larry and Charlie were tellin’ me that I didn’t want to go there, so that’s the reason why we didn’t go! But I don’t remember it like that – ‘cos it was called CCL Records – which stood for ‘Chico, Charlie, Larry’. Chico was the guy that put up money, Charlie was Charlie Rock and Larry was Larry D – so there was no ‘Chico, Charlie, Larry, Fox’! None of that. So I didn’t have any piece of the label or nothing, all I would receive would be my 33 1/3% royalty. It was madness. So after a while I just said, ‘Let me get out of New York, man.’ So I bounced to Atlantic City.
So how did you connect with G Rap and LL since you weren’t from Queens?
I’m from Manhattan, and they came from Queens to meet me. Kool G Rap would come to the after hours spot that I would go to. He was always there. Me and him, we was always battlin’ each other! [laughs] Every week he would get prepared with new stuff and be like, ‘Come on Fox – I got you this time!’ It would be friendly rivalry, you know what I mean? So it would never be like where I’m trying to take him out – you know, ‘Talk about your moms and kill your cat, your dog’ type battle stuff. It was more-or-less, ‘Let’s see who runs outta rhymes first’. Me, I had a habit of just goin’ on and on with it. I have rhymes that’s accumulated, where I could just spend all day and just go through it. At that time I was also creating stuff – I wanted to be inventive. Like creating the ‘run-on’ sentence – keep going with things like ‘a’, ‘k’, like, ‘I have a story I must relay, it happened to me on a Monday/ was sittin’ alone in a café, a pretty lady – she came my way/ she said, ‘You wanna share a little Monet? I said, ‘I don’t mind, it’d be OK’/ she grabbed my hand, walked to a Chevrolet, we stepped inside – she drove away/ she said, ‘My name is Faye, got a sister named Kaye’….’ And it just keeps going on and on.
Did you help G Rap develop that into his ‘Preacher, feature, creature, teacher…’ style?
Yeah. Kool G loved that, and I was nasty in that. He took it to another level also – he took it to a street level. Even with ‘It’s A Demo’ – those were rhymes that I remember him doing up in Joe Grants. That’s my man, so with him listening to me all the time, he couldn’t help but to emulate some of the stuff that I do. And that was the same with LL, too. At the time that he started this was a whole new thing – to articulate and use words that people aren’t using now. Even when he came out with ‘I Need A Beat’ he’s talking about, ‘A scenario for your stereo/beat under rhyme and vital is the ratio’. Who understands that except for somebody who has a collegiate vocabulary? That was something that we talked about when he was writing ‘I Need A Beat’, ‘cos we were listening to T La Rock’s ‘It’s Yours’. I would also talk with Special K and DLB from the Fearless Four, ‘cos these were the guys that were actually talking lyricism to another level, to a level that nobody else was doing. L was good at that – he would fill it up with metaphors and he could faster, he could go slow. But he’s a chameleon [laughs]. A lotta stuff that he came out with…like he’s feeling Run-DMC at the time, or he’s feeling EPMD, so he does something similar. What I liked about him was that he was bright, smart, intelligent, clean-cut…but he was very arrogant and wanted to get his thing on. I even took him to OC’s house where Moe Dee kicked us out of there! [after LL had begun rhyming on Fox’s instruction].
Is it true that LL called your record shop after getting the number off the label of the Fantasy 3 record?
Yeah. This was 1983. He came down to the record shop – he wanted to be signed, basically! He was lookin’ for a label. We talked about rap and everything, we was actually just hangin’ out. When L met me, I’m in my twenties and he’s sixteen years old. When I heard him I was like, ‘Aw man! It’s your time, man! This is your time. Don’t you know?’ He knew it. He felt it, but it’s just that nobody was ready. It took somebody like Rick Rubin that had the same vision that he had, and be able to take it and mould it to bring out an LL. Nobody else could see it, ‘cos they were stuck in that other stuff that started out in the 70’s and didn’t want to go to the next level. The music was in its infancy. It was time for a change, it was about to go through a metamorphosis. All the old school rappers were getting older, and there was a new generation that were buying records – and you don’t want to buy a record that your dad’s making, right? And L opened up the door for a lotta these young cats to start coming out. Before there was a Will Smith, there was LL! What I love about L, man – his first album, there wasn’t a curse word on it! Wait, maybe one song [laughs] He did ‘Jack The Ripper’ – that was the baddest! Wasn’t no cursing, no talking about slinging your drugs. He didn’t talk about what kind of gold he had on – he just wore it! He didn’t talk about his watch – he just let you see it!
How old was G Rap when you first met him?
G Rap was on some old gangster stuff when he was a kid. That stuff he talk about, ‘his life ain’t no fairytale’? It’s not! He was from a dysfunctional situation. He was a kid hangin’ in after-hours spots at three in the morning. When I met him, he was like 13 or something like that. But he was a 13 year-old hustler – with money – hanging with grown men. He had girls on corners, he had spots…everywhere he would go, he would go to pick-up money. He was everyday hustling, and it was two or three in the morning when he would stroll up into Joe Grants and we would be in there doing our rhymes. Him and L, man, I love them guys. Each one of them was different, man.
Kool G Rap – I call him the ‘anti-LL’. LL’s on this side, going, ‘Nah man, keep the cigarette smoke away from me. I’m no thug, I don’t wanna do that!’ And on the other side you’ve got Kool G Rap, and Kool G’s like, ‘Yo, man. You got Newports?’ And he’s talking, ‘I don’t give a fuck, nigga! Fuck that shit! Fuck these niggas!’ And LL’s going, ‘Oh, to heck with that!’ They like two different sides of me or something. They done flip coins on the Fox! These my dogs, man. Kool G Rap put my name on his first album – I appreciated that. LL – it took him like four albums before he said, ‘Oh yeah…Silver Fox’. [laughs] When L first came at me, when he started rapping I’m hearing [makes wheezing noise] He was struggling to keep going and take a breather. I had to show him the spot to breathe at. ‘Nah man, in order to be long-winded, you gotta know when to breathe. You gotta know when to keep yourself going – where to breathe at’. That’s the same thing with Kool G Rap, ‘cos Kool G had a mouthful of gold in his mouth, so he always talked like he had marbles in his mouth! [laughs]
Me and L had a one-on-one thing inside of the record shop, and that brought about a real closeness. Me and L would be sitting there with our notebooks in our hand and somebody walks into the record shop – ‘Hey man, what’s up? What you need? Do what you gotta do and bounce, so I can take care of this.’ My mother cooked and he ate some of my mom’s food, we went to White Plains where I had my little baby over there. We hung-out like that. Now me and G Rap – it was mostly in that after-hours spot. That builds a bond which was totally different. It builds a bond where it’s mad respect – he’d respect my game of rap, because anytime he came in he’s hearing something different, something new. He’s sitting back going, ‘Damn! I gotta do some more!’ ‘Cos this is what he wanted to do! Every week we was into it, so he was learning from me on a weekly basis. Sometimes I would go in there on a Thursday too, so it would be Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Here he go, goin’ to school! Then when my record came out, he was doing a show in Brooklyn and he put me on the flyer. I had a record out and it was hittin’ all through New York, and he’s like, ‘I’mma put him on the flyer, I’mma get mad heads up in there and I’mma make some money!’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it, but you’re gonna have to do some rhymes with me or something’. And he got on there and was doing his thing. It was a beautiful experience, it was all good.
How did you develop your style?
I learned from other MC’s, just listening to what they did, how they’re music was structured. I didn’t just listen to their rhymes, ‘cos me myself, I couldn’t listen to people’s rhymes all the time, ‘cos then I’ll start emulating them and I’ll start sounding like ‘em – and I couldn’t do that. And that’s what happened with these guys [LL and G Rap]. They listened to me all the time, they would be with me and then they start emulating me. They couldn’t help it! And this stuff is timeless – it lasted for over 25 years. I’m the only cat that call him CJ, trust me. I told him, ‘LL Cool J’s too long, man. I ain’t sayin’ all of that stuff.’ I take the ‘Ladies Love’ stuff outta there and call him Cool J. ‘Yo! CJ!’ I could do that, ‘cos I’m Fox.
Who was your main influence?
Mel is the one who influenced me to really do it. He just kept goin’ with his rhymes and he was so articulate and he used current events and put it into his raps. How could you top ‘Beat Street Breakdown?’ I went to go see Melle Mel and the Furious Five at a party when the Cassanovas robbed everybody. He said, ‘Throw ya hands in the air…now keep ’em there!’ And everybody was gettin’ stuck up! I’m looking around, going, ‘Oh, snap! They robbin’ people right in front of me, man!’ People gettin’ punched in the face, people gettin’ stuck-up, people gettin’ their jewelery taken! And I went there by myself because I wanted to see Melle Mel – I wasn’t thinkin’ about the rest of the guys – I wanted to see him. I’m from Manhattan and I’d gone all the way to The Bronx. I always felt in awe of Mel, and that was the only cat in rap that I was actually in awe of. Other than that, everybody else…I mean I liked their raps and I appreciate it, but I only listen to them for a minute and that’s it. When I started creating stuff, I was my own influence.
Did you know Ultramagnetic?
Yeah man. Keith was the guy that I would chill with, ‘cos he was crazy! I like him. I mean he was literally crazy, like he should be put in an asulym. I loved hangin’ with him and just sitting and talking with him. When you think about their lyrics? It only makes sense to people like them. It makes sense if you high and outta your mind! They did a show where all of ‘em were high on angel dust! I looked at them and said, ‘These boys are zootie, yo!’ [laughs]
What was the most memorable battle you ever had?
The best battle I had was with Kool G Rap and LL [laughs]. Me and L use to go for days, man. We would travel places and we’d battle each other, sitting on the train – ‘cos he would always want to battle me. We were on a plane, goin’ from Manhattan to upstate New York, and we would be battling each other all the way there! The trip was 45 minutes long, so for 45 minutes we would be battling each other!
Fantasy Three – ‘It’s Your Rock’
Fantasy Three – ‘Biter’s In The City’
Fantasy Three – ‘The Buck Stops Here’
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