Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
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.’
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’
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