Dante Ross – The Unkut Interview Part 2: The Elektra Era
Thursday April 30th 2009,
Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
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Following on from Part One, we move onto Dante’s time at Elektra Records, where assembled an all-star cast of artists, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Brand Nubian, KMD and Busta Rhymes.

Robbie: What was your process for finding groups to sign?

Dante Ross: I met every group I ever knew from somebody who was probably making records at the time. Obviously Puba was already making records, ‘cos he was in Masters of Ceremony when I met ‘em. Even with KMD, I met from 3rd Bass initially. Leaders of the New School, I actually saw them do a show – but I knew about ‘em already and I knew they were affiliated with the Bomb Squad. It’s never a blind solicitation process, so it’s never really work. I produced some records where I didn’t know the groups, but it just was never as fun.

How did you come into contact with Pete Rock?

Pete Rock used to be on the radio, he used to be on WBLS. I worked with this dude named Raoul Roach, who was really into Heavy D & The Boyz – who were never my cup of tea – so he was cultivating a relationship with Eddie F. Eddie F’s artist was Pete Rock, he asked me how I felt about Pete Rock and I said, ‘I’ve heard his demos on the air, I like him’. He wanted to do it but he didn’t want to do it if I didn’t do it with him, so we signed them together. He got let go right after that, and I ended-up working with them from then on in. That was always a pleasure – Pete and CL were easy to work with to me – they showed up and they were cool. Pete Rock is a really good guy, he put me up on records. I’d be hard pressed to say anything bad about that experience really, Pete was awesome. I wish the second record had sold better, ‘cos I thought it was great. I think we kinda mishandled it a little bit – me included – with what was going on.

He seems so serious about the music…

And the beats! When I first met Pete he didn’t really smoke weed, and I’m a big weed head, and I used to see him start to smoke more and more and he got a little more weeded-out. [chuckles]

You mentioned something about Serch and Bosco Money hearing something you were working on and they bugged out?

I played Puba for them. I played ‘Step To The Rear’ and ‘Who Can Get Busy Like This Man’, and them dudes didn’t know what to do. Bosco looked like he was gonna shit his pants, and Serch was like, ‘Yo, that’s on some next shit!’ I remember that clearly, that was like craze. Puba was so good back then – he was just incredible, he was just the best. If he hadn’t fucked it up? Wow, he was great. Like I look at Everlast – and I’m like, ‘He ain’t the best rapper, he’s not the greatest singer; he’s a good songwriter. He’s a great personality – meaning he’s very good at being a star – he’s a very interesting character. But he’s never as purely talented as a Puba, right? But he’s done so much more with his career. He did so many different things and went so far with his career because he’s driven and he’s into it and he’s positive about how he handles his shit. It’s a shame, you look at Puba – I mean, look at Busta, same thing. Like Busta made so much money…Puba probably could’ve made money like Busta, but he just didn’t go about it right. [In radio announcer’s voice] And that my friends – that’s the rap game!

But I don’t know if Puba ever had that star quality that someone like Busta does…he was a trend-setter though.

Nah, he doesn’t. But he invented ‘swag’! Who invented having swagger? Puba was talkin’ about all that shit way back when. He was the flyest dude, dressed the best – when he said a brand’s name, it was on. Nah’mean? He built Tommy Hilfinger! He should be getting checks to this…and Girbaud and a bunch of other shit, man. He was always a fly motherfucker.

But frustrating to deal with?

Grand Puba…I’ll say this – and I’ve said it to him – he’s the world’s greatest under-achiever. He was an amazing rapper and there really was a point when he was like ‘the dude’ – he really was ‘The Man’ – he really could’ve had a lengthy little run. And for whatever reason – and I’ve seen a bunch of people do this – he didn’t take advantage of the situation, he was really irresponsible and wasted a lot of people’s time and energy – his own included – and never got to maximize his talent. That’s a sad thing. At the end of the day, Puba definitely mismanaged his career. He was a screw-up. I still try to believe in him, but it’s tough sometimes.

It seemed like on the 2000 album that he just showed-up to the studio and did his rhyme and that was it.

Yeah, there was a lot of that. You can hear that he was just trying to get paid. He wasn’t into tryin’ to make great art, and that’s what it became for him, like it was a hustle. So many things, when they’re really easy for people, take them for granted.

The ‘International Zone Coaster 12” had like seven remixes on it…what was up with that?

Yeah, that was a weird one. OK, here’s the story with that…for some reason they had a problem with my remix, then they wanted to do their remix and maybe someone else did a remix at that point. It was a lotta problems at that point with me and Leaders of the New School. That was a tough boat to always sail…I’ll leave it at that.

Too many personalities to deal with?

Yeah, man. They had problems amongst themselves, and I would get caught in the middle sometimes. It was a tense situation…but, you know, I’ve worked in a lotta tense situations! It’s kinda par for the course half the time.

It must be like working at a day-care center sometimes.

Yeah, there’s a lotta babysitting involved in the music game. I kinda got sick of babysitting and also polishing turds – that’s not so fun to me. I’m fuckin’ 41 years-old, it’s not as fun as it used to be. I’m not as tolerant as I once was I guess. I do a lotta other creative stuff, like I write for magazines and I started trying to produce TV shows with Sasha Jenkins. The rap game is in a bad place so I’d rather just have nice memories of it than try and force the issue right now.

What was your worst day ever as an A&R?

There was a bunch of ‘em, man. There’s so many of ‘em. Wow…Leaders of the New School breaking up on MTV, basically. That was fucked. Charlie Brown like broke the band up on TV or some shit – thank god they didn’t run that shit, ‘cos I was gonna fuckin’ puke!

So what happened there? I thought the brass as Elektra pulled Busta aside and said, ‘We’re gonna make you a solo artist.’

That never happened, that’s all bullshit. Let me tell you what happened, ‘cos I was there. When Leaders of the New School turned in their second album it was bad – from me to you, it wasn’t a good record. I tried to change the record, make it better. They went back in the studio, had to do it again. It wasn’t working. Busta though, I knew was a star. Busta was killing it on the ‘Scenario’ remix, and when we went to make the second Leaders of the New School record I had Q-Tip ready to help me make the whole record with them, like the way he did for Mobb Deep’s album. None of them dude’s were with it except Bus, and I saw right there that Bus is smarter than these dudes – he’s thinking. I’m gonna be honest with you, making that record – when they turned it in the first time, and I knew it was wack and I sent back in – I told Chris Lighty and Lyor Cohen, ‘It’s time to think about Busta doin’ a solo record.’ In the interim of that record comin’ out, ‘Flava In Ya Ear’ [remix] came out, so I was verified that he was a star to me. I knew the record was bad, that when they turned it in the second time I couldn’t make it no better – they would not let me. I was like, ‘Yo, put them record out, it’s not gonna perform but let’s get Busta thinkin’ solo deal’. And that’s what happened. I’m the person that was behind that – I gave him his solo deal. And he’ll tell you that – he always says I’m his A&R guy. I discovered him and I told him to go solo. And that’s real talk – I did. So you can’t blame no one, Charlie Brown and all them guy’s theories and all that – I’m the one who threw it in the air, but it had sorted itself. Busta was meant to be a solo artist.

Were you involved with the ‘Whoo-ha!!’ remix with Ol’ Dirty?

Yes I was, and that was right when I left. I left right when that record came out. Here’s another thing – Wu-Tang put the single out, I went to meet them all at Bobitto’s station. I heard Dirty up there and Meth up there, they were all up there. I jetted up there, I met them. I met RZA, RZA knew me and word is bond, RZA that night when he seen me, he’s like, ‘Yo, I know you, B! You knew me when I was wack!’

Ha! From his Tommy Boy days!

Yeah, yeah! He told me that shit, I’m like, ‘This dude is a character!’ I was like, ‘Come see me’. They was comin’ to my office to see me, this dude ain’t show up – Method Man – he brought Ol’ Dirty, and I was like enamored with Dirty. I said, ‘I gotta sign this dude! I gotta sign him.’ But I told RZA, ‘Yo, I wanna sign Dirty and Method Man. It’s gonna be a group that’s gonna be Run-DMC for the next ten years.’ He was like, ‘Nah, that’s not goin’ down. I’ma put this dude Meth over here – pow! This dude’s goin’ over here…you get Dirty.’ So I signed Dirty. I had his demo – his demo only had five songs. Those five songs are on the album – they sound about 12% better on the album than they did on the demo, crusty tape that I had, and that’s real talk too. I would play that demo for all my dudes, ‘cos great rappers have a great ear. So I would play it for Puba, [Sadat] X, Lord Jamar, Bus…so that shit was a hit with other rappers. Dig it? So they would all come to my office and ask me to play it, and them dudes loved that shit! So I knew it was gonna work. And I’m telling you – when I was making that record, I had a serious relationship issue I was goin’ through, and my relationship fell apart ‘cos I focused on making Dirty’s record. ‘Cos I knew that Dirty’s record was a timeless experience – like it was one of the only times in my life that I was aware of that fact, ‘I’m makin’ a record, I gotta get to the finish line, ‘cos this may never happen again.’ I had to capture the moment – and I made it! It was great. My man passed, I loved him to death, and I wrote an obituary about him in Mass Appeal. He was just a great dude, I loved that dude. He’s the biggest character of anyone I ever, ever, ever worked with in my entire life.

He was a true rock star. Is it true that Busta felt like Dirty was kinda using his style when he first heard him?

No way. That’s absolute bullshit. He mighta felt that way about Onyx – he definitely didn’t feel that way about Dirty. He loved Dirty, that was his man! That was the good thing about Elektra – all my groups was cool with each other, man. I shoulda signed House of Pain and I didn’t, ‘cos I was like, ‘To throw the white boys in the dynamic – my brothers might be a little mad at me.’ I was like, ‘I dunno if I can fuck with that. That might really make my shit all crazy.’

Really?

Real talk, man. I was like, ‘The Gods might not appreciate it.’ I gotta say, working with all those groups I mentioned, and working with Doom and KMD and all that? All that shit was dope, man. I can’t say nothin’ bad about none of my groups.

Grand Puba - ’360 Degrees’ (SD-50′s Remix)

Leaders of the New School - ‘International Zone Coaster’ (Stimulated Dummies Remix)

Ol’ Dirty Bastard feat. RZA - ‘Cuttin’ Headz’

Part 1 – The Tommy Boy Era

Part 3 – The SD-50′s

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38 Comments so far
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i really liked the t.i.m.e., to me the production was on point, it was more raw, to me they went out with that album, my favorite joints on the album are Understanding The Inner Mind’s Eye,Daily Reminder, A Quarter To Cutthroat, Connections, What’s Next, Bass Is Loaded, and Spontaneous (13 MC’s Deep)and the remix, and for the non album cut the class material remix that diamond d produced, thats good to hear the real reason why they broke up, it seemed like charlie brown was the cause.

Comment by qnzgrimiest 04.30.09 @

Great interview with a true legend in this game!! Well done!

Comment by Drewtek 04.30.09 @

I always liked the posted version of zone coaster (video version) .. i need to get my hands on it fo sure ..did dante have anything to do with Pendulum ??

Comment by dolo 04.30.09 @

Speaking of “weeded out”, I always assumed that (and maybe whoolie blunts..HYPE) might have something to do with Puba’s lack of motivation. I mean dude is FAMOUS for being flake, but I agree he was THE man for a minute in the 90s.

Comment by keatso 04.30.09 @

Sometimes Dante seems too hard on some of these albums. TIME isn’t that great….but it’s not AWFUL. I remember in his Spinemagazine interview (nearly 10 years ago!) he said he hated No Need For Alarm….he did some fix-up work on it…but how much worse could it have been when Del first turned it in? I love that album! If Dante made it dope, then good work man!

Comment by Finally 04.30.09 @

Charlie Brown was just as dope as Busta 2 me…but what do i know i was a kid when that stuff dropped. Oh and didnt cmon with the cmon remix do alot for bustas livelyhood be4 flava in ya ear? i dont remember

Comment by Mercilesz 04.30.09 @

Oh and whats up with Crackajacks?….Always loved them

Comment by Mercilesz 04.30.09 @

Co-sign Puba’s greatness. Dude was one’a the best ever! Also, co-sign Dante’s sentiments re: being tired of baby sitting grown kniccas in my 40′s. Reason why I left the mucis game to blog 24/7. Heh.

Comment by Combat Jack 04.30.09 @

i always knew pete rock musta been puffin trees…

Comment by er4se 04.30.09 @

Good call on the 2nd leaders albs… shit was disasterous.
Props to Rob and Dante… Another one in the bag! These type of heads seldom get mentioned but were (obviously) an integral part to artists careers and some incredible releases…

Comment by Big Hock 05.01.09 @

Both parts are fantastic.

Great work.

Comment by MF 05.01.09 @

Nice interview, Rob.

If people want to see more stories from Dante Ross, there is a recent (and funny) interview over at the berrics:

http://www.theberrics.com/dailyopspost.php?postid=858

(part 1 of 6 – choose NEXT to see em all)

Comment by Fredo/DK 05.01.09 @

I pretty much bought every Elektra release between ’90 and ’92/’93 because of this dude. Even the vinyl and cassette singles. I’d stand in the aisles of the record store reading the back of the albums and if it had his name on it, I knew I had to buy it. He made Elektra the ish back then and even Tommy Boy. Good articles.

Comment by Vincent 05.01.09 @

Great interview with one of the greats of that era.
With all due respect, it was blatantly obvious that Busta would and needed to go solo.
Busta stood out so much that he made the others seem more ordinary than they were.
Anyone could see that.

Comment by beatlover 05.01.09 @

Sometimes I read a interview I’ve done and i get bummed at misquotes or attempts to cause controversy but this one is on point. When I read it just now it makes me give thanks and raise that I had the chance to do what I did,work with who I worked with artist wise and that it wasn’t for nothing.

And guess what?it was really fun!

D Ross

Comment by dante ross 05.01.09 @

I still love that Inner Mind Eye record!Dante had a good ear for the most part, great interview.

Comment by chronwell 05.01.09 @

Peace to Dante Ross!!! A bygone era for sure, that is preserved for our listening pleasure; Puba…what a waste of talent…he’s one of my all-time faves (Step to the Rear…I been bumpin’ that shit in the whip for the past 6 months)

Comment by bronxbred 05.01.09 @

brilliant.

would love to see a stimulated dummies interview?

Comment by jesse 05.01.09 @

Good interview.

Comment by Distrakt 05.01.09 @

good interview amn, i could read stories like these all day!

Comment by step one 05.02.09 @

Chronwell go change your name to Cornball….T.I.M.E was mediocre at best and the good ear most of the time comment was weak. Cats always weigh in but never played the game. Weak,wik,wak!

Comment by D Ross 05.02.09 @

i cant believe the dude was white:)

sh*t always thought the name sounded black

if his name was on it…sh*t was copped

great interview

Comment by smac19 05.03.09 @

Dante, thats your opinion. Im a listener, a supporter, I decide whats bangin. I decide whats hip, Im hiphop and not regular hiph opIm from the hood, its birthplace. I decide what shoes U wear so u can call me a cornball on the net but U would NEVER do it in my presence. Dont be so sensitive!

Comment by chronwell 05.04.09 @

You decide for you me I’d rather hear what the public has to say as opposed to someone who over values there opinion. Your remarks were self important holmes.
Trust me anything I would say online I would say to your face. My question is what have you accomplished that makes you the person to critique me and my so called ears?

Arm chair critics don’t impress me too much real talk. Anyways as we used to say writing Graf wheres your up’s son?

D Ross

Comment by dante ross 05.05.09 @

My up’s? Like I said Im a listener and a dude who lives this hiphop lifestyle for over 20 years. Im notlike u,Ive never held a job in the music industry. I just went to the store and copped what was dope in my opinion.Thats what I mean when I say I decide when I spend.If u think I overvalue my opinion, thats your opinion..like I said. I know what is dope and I wont EVER make the mistake of making a smart remark in one of your courses, Professa!HAHAHA!!

Comment by chronwell 05.05.09 @

I think I bought fireworks off this guy on Canal Street

Comment by keatso 05.06.09 @

There isn’t a bigger douchebag wigger crackhead than Dante. The man was apart of some greatness but there will never be a more uber tool in this game than him.

Comment by Dwight Yokehim 05.06.09 @

Thank you very much Dwight your the best tell your mom I say hello. Next time leave your name why don’t you?
Wigger wow that really hurts…why not go all out and throw in a whiteboy or 2?

D Ross

Comment by dante ross 05.06.09 @

Dante don’t get it twisted, you are nothing more than Gary Carter (86 Mets) without the talent. You have been apart of some nice things and you have memories that will always attach you to Nubian, 3rd Bass and your TB days but most of the people you’ve ever dealt with have horror stories about you. Nobody likes you or takes you serious. You were a fucking tool when you appeared on the White Rapper Show. You think WAY too highly of yourself. You’re pretty much a hack but I won’t deny what you’ve been attached to. You also have a serious drug problem that is pretty well known. If you combined Michael Rappaport, MC Serch and
David Faustino you would get the level of white guilt/hate wiggerisms that you project. Stay shamin’ crack boi.

Comment by Dwight Yokehim 05.07.09 @

I guess my comments got deleted because nobody wanted you to catch feelings but you look sickly. Nobody who has really worked with you likes you. You are Gary Cater without the talent. Apart of some memories but a hack when you think about it. You make Justin Faustino, Serch and Rappaport look like yuppies. You need to stop smoking dust.

Comment by Dwight Yokehim 05.07.09 @

Hey Robbie, great interview as always. I don’t know if it is possible, but it would be interesting if you could interview Bob Power.

Comment by turtle 05.07.09 @

Funny I have never taken a drug other than weed ( Is that even a drug?) in 22 years. I have never done coke ever and thats my word is bond. I never did XTC, I dont even drink hard liquor the last 10 years. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t indulage in anything but the greenary and beer.

A hack hardly. People not liking me funny I’ll be Everlast’s best man next Sunday as well as still being super cool with every artists of merit I ever worked with. There are a few cats that are envious and hateful like yourself but for the most part I’ve had a great ride in the game.
I wonder did I fuck you ex girl, beat your ass repeatedly or just not like your beats when you played me them? Curious what did I do to make you so mad at me?
You sound like a real Stan holmes. See it’s not fair I’m a semi public figure your a keyboard gangster ass turd who lives annoynamously behind a keyboard. Other than make fun of you here there’s realy not much I can do but tell you your a big fat turd burgler.

If you feel some kind of way about me when you see me walking the streets of NYC like I’m prone to do lets shoot a fair one my dude no hard feeling after I bust your disrespectful ass like I’m I promise I wont mug you for your kicks like it was 86 in the D yard if you promise not to sue me for beating your ass like the punk you are. On 2nd thought fuck it I’m taking your kicks regardess.
See your a tool and a hater. Me I’m some one who did something with his life. I wonder who do the people respect more me or you? Oh yeah last time I checked Hacks don’t get grammys or write songs for Santana. Funny what have you done besides hate here? Since your a chicken shit that wont reveal his name I guess we all now the answer is not a dam thing!
Funny Busta, Pete Rock,Del, Everlast, and The Brand Nubians all say great stuff about me in interviews I wonder why do you make stuff up does it make you feel good cause it just makes you look like someone who needs to get a life. I suggest you get one son your struggling right about now

Real Talk this is my last response to this loser.

Dante Ross

P.S. your pathetic

Comment by dante ross 05.07.09 @

Game. Set. Match.

Dante thank you for doing what most of us thought you would do. You won me $10. I’ll Paypal you $5 for the assist though.

Comment by Dwight Yokehim 05.08.09 @

The Gods must be crazy anybody have the Sadat X the Great dot x song that dante produced

Comment by E-MECCA 05.10.09 @

Combat Jack, I just followed the link, & I see you’re from the Yay. I’ve been reading your comments for a minute now and didn’t realize you were so close… What up, rogue?

Comment by Gangalee 05.12.09 @

Interview inspired http://philaflava.blogspot.com/2009/05/say-what-say-what-dante-ross.html

Comment by Ready Rock 05.13.09 @

DOPE interview but maaaan T.I.M.E eas a dope album man!

Comment by vulcan 10.07.10 @



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