Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
There was a time when being an A&R in rap music actually meant something more than the guy who’s trying to find out what records you’re sampling so he can become a producer. Dante Ross actually gave a fuck about the projects he worked on, which is why he was involved in hip-hop milestones such as Mecca & The Soul Brother, All For One and 3 Feet High & Rising to name a few. I won’t go into his full bio here but everything will be covered in future installments. To kick things off, we chopped it up about his formative years in the music biz.
Robbie: When were you working with RUSH Management?
Dante Ross: ’87. That was fun as hell. I got my job ‘cos Ricky Powell went on tour with the Beastie Boys and they gave me a job as the messenger, his replacement. I guess I had half a brain on my fuckin’ head, and I was a crazy little kid, so I ended-up gettin’ a real job workin’ with Eric B. & Rakim, being a road manager. Which led me to later on getting an A&R job at Tommy Boy records. I worked there for a while – it was actually cool. I worked with Lyor and it was a crazy job and I half hated it, half loved it. But I got my foot in the door.
And then De La ended-up featuring you in the comic on the first album…
It was funny – my friend’s brother did that comic. I gave the guy the job who did that comic. This is real talk, too – I had the option to change the comic and to take my name off the shit, and I told ‘em, ‘Nah, that shit it cool’. For me and them, it was jokes. I would just go hard on those dudes like all the time. The reason they called me a ‘Scrub’ is ‘cos I always called them ‘scrubs’, and they never heard no one say that before. Like ‘Fuckin’ scrubs!’ or ‘Shut up, ya scrubs!’ That was like my favorite shit to say. So it backfired on me, ‘cos I said it so much they were like, ‘OK, motherfucker!’ And they got me! Little known fact is that I gave Maseo the name ‘Baby Huey’. Ask him, ‘cos I was like, ‘Fuck you, Baby Huey!’ Back in the day. I have so many crazy stories with those dudes. I took ‘em to their first show ever at Payday in New York. They opened for Stetsasonic. We only had like two songs to do, and Stetsasonic didn’t want to perform ‘cos the sound was all fucked-up, so De La performed twice. They did the same shit twice – they killed it! It was unbelievable.
I’ma tell you the De La Soul story now, so get you’re fuckin’ recorder on. The way I heard they shit was, Monica Lynch was interviewing me for the job at Tommy Boy. She played it for me – and I get a lot of credit for this, and maybe I don’t deserve as much credit – she said, ‘I’m gonna sign this. What do think of this?’ And it was that shit. Prince Paul had been telling me about it and had played it for me once before. I was like, ‘That shit is crazy! It’s so dusted. It reminds me of Slick Rick but it’s like it’s own shit’. And she was like, ‘Yeah, well we’re gonna give you the job and that’s the first record you’re working on’. I was like, ‘Bet!’ I got the test-pressing, I ran around and took it to everyone, and people started playing it. It was the first time that I knew maybe I was right. I was like, ‘Fuck! I know something!’ Monica Lynch was singing it whether I was there or not, but I was the co-sign ‘cos she was like, ‘That’s your first project’.
‘Potholes In my Lawn’?
Yeah. That was great working there. I signed Queen Latifah. First, 45 King came up to me, he knew who I was, at the Latin Quarters. He put headphones in my ear, on a fuckin’ Walkman, and said, ‘Yo, listen’. I knew who he was, knew what he looked like. It was like some crazy promo he used to have on Red Alert, that was nuts! He played me beats, I was like, ‘Oh my god! You’re incredible!’ I’d never even heard nothing like that. I was just so impressed. I was like, ‘You have any groups?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I got my whole Flavor Unit. I’ma come play you shit’. He couldn’t find my number or something, he called me the next couple of days with Fab Five Freddy on the phone – he called me three-way – and he stared playing me artists over the phone. He played me Queen Latifah, and I was like, ‘She sounds dope!’ He brought her to meet me, it was great. Then we fuckin’ signed, then we played basketball down the block from Tommy Boy, and she was with my man Latee. He was my man forever, big-up to Latee. Lord Ali-Baski – that was my man Taheed – he was down with them dudes, he was my friend, I knew him from downtown when I was young, so I had a connection with them dudes. Long story short, I ended up signing her and I was there when we made the first two singles. I wish I had stayed there to make more records with her, but she was great, man. I knew she had the shit from day one. It’s the thing that my mom’s most proud of I ever did. She’s like, [old woman’s voice] ‘You signed Queen Latifah!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, mom. Tell everybody again…’
How come you didn’t you sign the rest of the Flavor Unit? Were they already signed?
Who the hell knows why I did anything, man? I was smoking blunts half the time. Digital Underground – that’s one that I get underrated for. They came to Tommy Boy, this dude named Ed Strickland, he was friends with Atron Gregory – he knew from TNT Records through Macola – he brought ‘Doowhatchulike’ to me. He said, ‘This record’s hot in the bay’. I said, ‘That record is hot’. I played it for De La Soul in the conference room at Tommy Boy records. Motherfuckers said, ‘Sign that, B!’ I signed that shit and I never got to work with those motherfuckers! And no one knows I signed fuckin’ Digital Underground! That’s real talk. I signed ‘em and knew I was maybe gonna take another job!
So people started hollering at me to give me another job. I wanted Puba to produce Latifah, but he kept missin’ meetings. Then he came one day and said, ‘I’ve got this group, Brand Nubian’. He had one song – ‘Ain’t Gonna Out Like That’ – off some James Brown loop. I swear to god – Cypress Hill – god bless, my brothers from another mother, but that hook that they had for that song was the same Brand Nubian hook. And I know that Muggs heard that song [laughs] God bless, I love you Muggs – no slight – but the demo that we never used? That became a Cypress Hill song! Shit happened, and that’s real! [laughing] People don’t even know. So anyway, I told him, ‘Yo Puba, fall back, B. I’ma take this job at Elektra and we gonna make it crack over there. I got more money for you’. ‘Cos I was fuckin’ starving workin’ at Tommy Boy. I was selling weed out the office, I was no money havin’ guy. When I worked there, this is my other hustle – this is great. I sold weed, I fuckin’ booked show and was the road manager. I would take Latifah and De La Soul to Los Angeles, and make like $300. And I might DJ for Latifah! That’s so fucked-up, right? That was like my old school hustle when I was like 22, 23 years-old. Like, ‘I’m you’re A&R, your Road Manager this weekend and your DJ’. Let’s go!’ And we’d go do a show for KDAY. That’s how I met Muggs, that’s how I met Everlast – goin’ to LA with De La Soul and Latifah.
Back in the 7A3 era?
7A3…OK, here’s a great 7A3 story. I was in World On Wheels – that’s the fuckin’ Crip’d out spot in LA – some crazed club. We’re performing, De La Soul, they’re performing – 7A3 – their song called ‘Why’, I think it’s on the Colors soundtrack. I looked out, everyone’s wearing blue! Everyone had Cowboys and Georgetown and Yankee’s shit on…I’m like, ‘What the fuck? I’m in LA! Everyone’s wearin’ blue!’ And dude’s got curls and everything, and 7A3 go on before us and do that song, ‘Why does a brother have to die for the color of a rag?’ I looked out in the audience and they’re throwing flags, ‘THAT’S WHY, MOTHERFUCKER!’ Seeing dude’s trippin’ out, I was buggin! I’ve never seen that shit before, I swear to good I was like *Ga-Gonk*, like ‘Ohhhhhh shit! This shit is GANG-RELATED! This is gang-banged out!’ I’m with De La Soul and we’re wearing fuckin’ peace-signs and dashikis, I might have one leg fuckin’ rolled-up and the crazy Air Max with a striped shirt on and a flat-top, lookin’ just crazy. Dude’s were harassing them during their set, and De La Soul went out and did ‘Plug Tunin’ and they fuckin’ killed it! Real talk – rocked! Then we ended-up hangin’ with 7A3, we went to a BBQ at Muggs house. That’s where I linked with Muggs and stayed friends with him forever. Cypress Hill was down with De La Soul before Cypress Hill was Cypress Hill.
De La Soul – ‘Potholes In My Lawn’ (12″ version)
De La Soul – ‘Freedom Of Speak’
Queen Latifah – ‘Wrath of My Madness’
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