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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
There’s no denying that Funkmaster Wizard Wiz is a bugged-out dude. From boasting about “making snowballs outta dog shit” to penning the most bizarre “anti-crack” record ever, Wiz never failed to entertain. After working with producers of the caliber of Ced-Gee and Pumpkin during his stint at Tuff City, Wiz tried his hand at hustling once his music career began to wane. Unfortunately, due to his flamboyant dress sense that carried over from his on-stage persona, it wasn’t long before he was arrested and sentenced to half-a-decade behind bars, where he embraced Islam and decided to focus his music in a more positive direction. Currently residing in Atlanta with his wife, Wiz talks about his early days in the Bronx, getting banned from KISS-FM, beating-up Aaron Fuchs and some of his unique on-stage stunts.
Robbie: Did you start out as an MC originally?
Funkmaster Wizard Wiz: Actually I was a B-Boy first. I was a breakdancer back in ’76, ’77. I spent a few years doin’ that, building a reputation at that, getting familiar with that, then after a while I just decided that I no longer wanted to get dirty and get my clothes dirty and be on the floor – but I still wanted to be in the spotlight. I found another way to not get my clothes ripped-up, not scuff up my British Walkers and stuff like that. That’s when I saw Prince Whipper Whip, Grandmaster Caz, T-Bone, Charlie Chase, Flash and ‘em were doin’ a party at Roosevelt High School in The Bronx. That was my first time being introduced to emceeing, and seeing that power that a microphone had. Actually, Whipper Whip was the one who really made the greatest impression on me as an MC during those early days.
When did you get together with The Undefeated Three?
It’s funny that you just mentioned The Undefeated Three, because I just got off the phone with both of ‘em! Those brothers are doing great. The brother Easy G from The Undefeated Three has accomplished some great accomplishments – he done been with LaFace Records, he done did projects from TLC all the way down to Mary J. Blige, so he’s still very successful in producing. 1979, 1980 was the first time I had got together and created The Undefeated Three. Me and T La Rock were partners actually, and a young lady by the name of Vicious T. We were actually the original Undefeated Three, but as far as trying to maintain the group and coming to rehearsals and keepin’ the name up, they really weren’t motivated in that. So I took the name over and I got two more members – which was Gerald Stevens and Joe McDonald – and we created the second version of The Undefeated Three.
Did you live in the same part of The Bronx?
I was doing a project and I was introduced to Joe Mac by my DJ, whose name was Magic Ray at the time. Easy G was a guy who was attending a lot of open mic parties – block parties – out in New York, who had been familiar with who I was and was admiring me from a distance. He actually met someone who knew me and asked that person to introduce him to me, and that led to us becoming a group after that initial introduction.
How long was it until you signed your first deal?
Apexton Records was the first company I got a deal with. I had wrote a record called ‘Unity Rap’ and they had track that they couldn’t get anybody to write to. They submitted the track to me, I wrote the song – they loved the lyrics but they wanted to place one of their members in the group, because he was from Queens and they wanted someone from Queens representing in this group. So the original Supreme – Joe McDonald – he humbly backed-down and let this other guy come in and fulfill his spot. It was a business move and it kinda really devastated him because that took a lot for him to do, but he did it because he really didn’t have another choice. He had to back down, because these guys were funding the project and they really wouldn’t have it any other way. So we had to make that sacrifice.
How was that record received?
The record didn’t do very well. Apexton wasn’t a very big company and I don’t know what they game plan was. I didn’t even have a game plan, I was just happy to be on a record. I didn’t really know the business of hip-hop or any of that recording business. I really didn’t know what their goal was, I was juts happy to have a record in my hand with my name on it.
So how did you get together with Aaron Fuchs?
Actually my DJ Magic Ray got a phone call from Aaron Fuchs. Somehow they had been acquainted with each other. Aaron Fuchs had given Magic Ray a track that he had given to this group called The Super 3 MC’s. They had in their possession and were supposed to write to the track, but over three months had passed and they weren’t able to come up with anything. Aaron Fuchs submitted the track to Magic Ray, Magic Ray submitted the track to me. I wrote the song overnight. The next day, we called Aaron Fuchs up, told him we had something and then two days later we was in his office. I was lettin’ him know what I had, he saw my writing ability and what I had. He was introduced to me as Funkmaster Wiz and we signed a contract as The Undefeated Three.
But you guys never actually put out a record on Tuff City as a group though, did you?
What happened with that was, after dealing with Aaron Fuchs for several months, the group wasn’t happy with the results that we were getting from Aaron. Felt that he was just lolly-gagging a lot, that he had his own favorites – which were the Cold Crush and Spoonie Gee. These guys were his favorites at the time, so we was basically taking a back seat to a lot of things that were going on with the company, and the other two members really didn’t like that. So they got in a discrepancy with Mr. Fuchs – they wanted to get off the company. He released them, but he wouldn’t release me. He said, ‘Y’all two can leave. Here’s your contracts – but I’m not releasing Wiz’. At that time I got a phone call from Aaron Fuchs telling me they were no longer on the company and that he was going to fully devote all his time to enhancing my solo career. About a week later he put out a single on me called ‘Knucklehead Rappers’ just to insult them and to hurt their feelings. That’s why he rushed and did that. They went to go sign with Jazzy Jay, who was dealing with Bambatta at that time, with his own company.
Aaron was listed as the producer on a lot of your records. Is that accurate?
No, that’s not accurate at all. What I learnt about the game of recording is, you have these individuals – because they’re financing the project, they consider themselves the producer. We actually did the writing and the music aspect of it, but Aaron Fuchs did the financing aspect – which I guess overrided everything else and gave him the authority to title himself the producer.
You have some hilarious stories like ‘I Stink Cause I’m Funky’ and ‘Bellevue Patient’. Were you trying to bring some entertaining concepts?
To be honest with you, that was my way of thinking. I was young, I was adolescent. I had a lotta pain, a lotta anger. I had anger-management issues growin’ up in the streets, and I reflect a lot of what I’d written was just actual events that had happened growin’ up that I tried to put into a music form and put some entertainment behind them. But they were all actually the man that you see. He was a little Bellevue patient through his way of thinking and his behavior. So I just took some of these stories and experiences that I had through my way of thinking, and just transformed them into lyrics and try to give people a better perspective of who I was.
So you actually ate a steak sandwich off the ground?
There have been times I have dropped something on the floor and picked it up and ate it. I’ve done that! [laughs] There have been times I have thrown a shitty pamper at my brother – yes, I have done that! I’ve snatched a lady’s pocketbook! There has been times I have done things, so I just took my misfortunes and tried to transfer them into a song.
One of your most well-known tracks was ‘Crack It Up’. What was the story behind that?
At that time when I had wrote that, that was the initial time that the crack epidemic was really getting bad in our communities. It was like a recreational drug at that time, because nobody knew the effect that it would have in the long term. So it was kinda cool to be indulging with it in the beginning when it first came out, but as time went on I started seeing the effects and how it was affecting people I knew and people that was around me. I tried to put it into a record where it was just funky, but the public thought that I was promoting the use of crack. Once I came out with the initial song, they played it on the radio…we’ve got a bunch of phone calls in, banning it from the radio – asking Red Alert how they could play something like that. Because the hook seemed like it was indulging people to use crack After we got that feedback we had to go back in the studio and put, ‘You better not’ in front of the initial hook [‘Crack It Up!’], but by that time the damage had been done. The word was out that this guy was out there promoting this – this wild and crazy guy. [Adding] ‘You better not’ didn’t help save the record at all. I was labeled with that title and was banned off the radio. I believe it was KISS-FM.
Was that damaging for your career?
It depends on how you looked at it. Any exposure’s good exposure to me, because the whole key is to be exposed. Whether it’s positive exposure or negative exposure – exposure is the goal! Either way I said what I had to say, and that’s all that matters – me being able to express my freedom of speech.
How was your relationship with Aaron Fuchs and Tuff City?
Anybody who’s in this for money and wealth and fame, they would say, ‘Well, that was a bad experience for me’. But for me, I think it was a good experience because it taught me the mistakes, it taught me a lot about the game, it taught me about people and human nature and it helped me get a perspective on myself as a man. Being a young man growing up, when I had other issues in my life that I weren’t able to deal with, being down with Tuff City was an escape for me. It was an outlet for me to ventilate my talent. Had I acquired any wealth or fame or popularity in my early days of Tuff City, I might not be here today! I mighta OD’d, mighta got caught-up in drugs, might’ve took that money and abused it.
How were things for you in the 90’s?
Tuff City and I were never really on good terms. Even my times of incarceration, I felt abandoned by them. I never got no real support from Aaron – financially or any otherwise. The relationship was always up and down – and money was always an issue. I actually had a physical confrontation with Aaron where I was arrested. He holds that grudge ‘till this very day against me, so we had a very rocky relationship.
So your frustration had just built up to breaking point?
Yeah, because he was getting money, not payin’ me money, he was not answering my calls. I had no other way out that to return to the streets, selling drugs and doin’ the negative things that I was doin’. I really thought Tuff City would be my way to escape that way of growing up, but he really seemed to just contribute to oppress me more, so my anger ventilated. When I approached him on money situations he was very disrespectful, so I reacted emotionally and one thing led to another, where I was arrested for assault.
What is it about The Bronx that sets it apart?
The Bronx was always advanced – ahead of it’s time. The people in The Bronx were advanced, the swagger, the style. It seemed to be, the more poverty-stricken we were, the more advanced we became. I had family who lived in Brooklyn, but I lived in The Bronx, so when I would go to Brooklyn they seemed to be five or six years behind the brothers and the sisters in The Bronx. While we was playing ‘Just Begun’ and ‘Apache’ they was still playin’ ‘Shame’ – all these old records that we weren’t playing anymore. It just seemed like the more poverty-stricken we were, the more advanced we were in other areas. It motivated us to get money in other ways, because of the lack of opportunity, just no recreation…the whole situation that was set-up for us in The Bronx. We developed ways to escape those situations, and hip-hop was a big factor – from graffiti to breakdancing, to deejaying and emceeing. We created elements to escape the oppression and the situations we were being exposed to in The Bronx, and that motivated us and put us ahead of the game. We used to make skateboards and go-karts; we couldn’t afford a bicycle. We would take a old shopping kart, break the wheels off, get four pieces of wood and make a go-kart! We would take a old rollerskate, nail it to the piece of wood and create a skateboard!
How would you describe a Funkmaster Wizard Wiz show in the 80’s?
[laughs] Oh wow. I know that we very visual creatures, so I know that everybody’s looking for something, so I always tried to give them something to visualize. I was performing the song ‘Crack It Up’ at a specific show one night – I actually bought some real crack, I actually bought a pipe, and I actually paid someone to stand in the middle of the crowd. When I cued them with a specific word I would say, they would slam the crack into the pipe and light it right there. I would stop the music and point to this individual, they would blow the smoke in the crowd – people thought it was an illusion until they smelt it and seen that it was real crack – and then the show just lit-up from there! We got in trouble for that actually, because the club owners would pull me aside and tell me, ‘Next time you plan on using real crack, please let us know, ‘cos I could lose my license for that!’
That’s pretty original. Any other wild stunts?
There was times I would get on stage with a big can of dog food, and open it up with a big spoon and take a spoon of it right there and put it in my mouth and eat it! And people would look at me with disgust, like, ‘This guy is crazy!’ There were times I would punch myself in the face! Bang myself in the head with the microphone – just to show this guy was a Bellevue patient for real! I had to make them believe.
Funkmaster Wizard Wiz - ‘Bellevue Patient’
Funkmaster Wizard Wiz - ‘Crack It Up’
Funkmaster Wizard Wiz - ‘I Ain’t Wid Dat’
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