Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Crates,Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
[left to right] Molecules,Chucky Smash & Cee-Low
If you’re a fan of Showbiz & AG‘s Runaway Slave (and if you’re not, kill yourself) then you should recall your first introduction to The Legion, as they chanted ‘Who’s It On?’ in one of the skits. Soon afterwards they signed to Dres‘ One Love imprint and dropped the amazing Theme + Echo = Krill album. I was able to get into contact with Chuck Smash after he left a comment on my original post about his crew. Chuck also co-hosts the Digging In The Crates radio show with DJ Bill Skillz, on WVKR at 2am every Monday.
Robbie: Can you break down The Legion for those who aren’t familiar?
Chucky Smash: It’s me, myself – Chucky Smash; Molecules – who’s pretty much our leader; and you got Cee-Low 4,5,6 – The Dice Man. Dice is like a street politician – he’s well loved on the street and can pretty much go to any hood and he’s loved. The three of us collectively, we always bring something to the table. I’ve always been more into the classic hip-hop, into graffiti and the break dancing. Dice was the ladies man, the partier. ‘Cules was the street cat, the DJ and the beat guy, and we always brought those three elements together, and that’s what keeps us a crew and friends to this day.
Chi-Ali went to school with my younger brother Rolo, who’s actually on one of the cuts on the album. They were best friends in high school, and Molecules was around with Chi-Ali and he actually bumped into Dres through the hip-hop circuit. It turns out him and Dres grew-up around the same area of Queens – ‘Cules’ pops was around the same section as were Dres was from out in Corona, Queens. So ‘Cules actually started out as a road manager for Black Sheep, and my brother Rolo was the stage hypeman for Chi-Ali. As time started going along, Dres would bring out Molecules from time to time to kick a freestyle. But in actuality, Molecules was actually a DJ. He wasn’t really an MC but because we’d been around hip-hop since the 70’s, growing up in the Bronx, you’d just always be able to kick a verse! We’d all end up doing collaborations with Chi-Ali and just rhyming together, so that’s how we got put on to be signed to Mercury.
The Legion album had a real old-school feel on a lot of the tracks. Was that concept? Paying homage to that era?
It’s funny talking about it – obviously we didn’t make history – it was a long album, it was a lot of songs. It was a lot of…I want to say yelling! We were a bit over-the-top, but we tried to focus on our rhymes, man. Looking now, we could have refined it a bit but it was definitely heart-felt. We all grew-up in the Bronx. We come from the Soundview section of the Bronx, we grew-up around the Zulu Nation, around the origins of Afrika Bambatta. We grew-up under that whole template, man. As far as the jams in the street – pretty much the origins. We came from where it came from, and all of those elements connected. I was a graffiti writer, ‘Cules actually was a DJ. Just in terms of break-dancing I did the electric boogie, poppin’ and things like that. Cee-Lo was from Bronxdale Projects, and out of that origins came the Black Spades and it was this crew called Chuck City Crew – DJ Mario, DJ Sinbad – which originated out of Bronxdale. This is what we grew-up on, and we tried to bring that forth onto the album. As we got a little older, we did have our dabble in the hustling, so you’ll catch that element. A lot of inspiration also came from a DJ who did a few skits on the album – The World Famous DJ Brucie B – from a famous nightclub down in Harlem called The Rooftop. We was also inspired from that era, ‘cos once we grew-up and evolved from that hip-hop, the hustlers were a big inspiration as well. So outside of the MC’s, a lotta the original hustlers – we looked-up to those dudes as well. That was a part of our up-bringing as well.
What did you used to write in your bombing days?
It’s funny, ‘cos my real name is actually Jamal and there was a basketball player on the Los Angeles Lakers named Jamal Wilks, so everybody involved my neighborhood growing up – ‘cos I used to play basketball – they would call me Wilks. So when I first started writing I was writing WILKS, but that was too long so I started writing WIZ-ONE.
Was this in the 80’s?
I started tagging-up in 1978, man. I started rhyming in ’77, ’78! By ‘84 I was a little bit older, I had gotten my skills-up a little bit. At that point I was bombing the trains. I really wasn’t doing no heavy-duty pieces – I did a few pieces, although I got caught by the cops! I got in trouble by my mom, I had to get bailed-out of jail from my mom [laughs] so I pretty much put the writing down a little bit, but I still always tagged. At this time the subways were just masterpiece art galleries, man. We grew-up on the Number 6 train line, which was really controlled by graffiti artists. You remember SEEN, United Artists? SEEN was pretty much the king of the 6 Line at that time. SEEN and ZEPHYR and PJAY. I pretty much used to ride on the 6 Train and the 5. When I went to high school, I would take the 5 Train and I would bomb the 5 Train.
Can you explain the title of the album Theme + Echo = Krill? Is that a reference to whoolas?
[laughs] You’re good! You did your homework! Check it – the crazy-ass name of our album…We used to like theme music, like blaxploitation music. The ‘Theme’ would be the beats and the music that’s setting the tone. The ‘Echo’ like represents the voices – there were three of us – and also represented the echo chambers that you heard in the jams. And the final product was the ‘Krill’, which was a combination as far as us and our lingo and our slang, which really stood for ‘Krazy Ill’. But you mentioned whoola blunts – Krills – actually is what people called cracks at the time. Pretty much it was our definition of what was crazy or what was hot in our mind, but I know it went over a lot of people’s heads. It was the finished product. You wanna call it the dope or whatever you might want to equate it to, but as far as coming from us? It was The Music plus The Voices equals Craziness. Looking back in hindsight, 20/20, it might have been a bit over-the-top, but at the time that’s what we were feeling, and that’s what it was. You take people like De La Soul or take Tribe Called Quest – cats that were putting out pretty off-the-beaten-path type of joints – so that was our stance. We just wanted to be different.
Did all three of you used to make the beats?
We all used to do the beats together, but for the most part it’s Molecules work when it comes to the final product. Molecules has a huge, huge record collection. Last time I was at his crib, at his basement, maybe he’s got forty crates of records, if not more. I’m maybe sitting on twenty myself, but you can never just have enough records, man! Chopping beats, breaking beats. Molecules definitely was the mastermind of the production. Over the years, he did a cut on Mos Def’s album The New Danger [‘Life Is Real’]. He did production for Pink, the pop singer. He’s currently on the road with an artist called Esmée, who’s with Justin Timberlake.
Did Show teach you guys how to use the SP?
When we were working on our album, Show had a place where he was living downstairs and Dres was living upstairs. I’ll give you a snapshot of a typical day: we’d be downstairs hanging out at Showbiz’s house – here’s another cat with millions of records, I couldn’t even tell you how many crates he’s got. So obviously we sit there, pass off ideas and pick his brain. We’d go upstairs, Dres got records…looking back, I mean you’d be sitting in Show’s house and who comes knocking on the door? Greg Nice from Nice & Smooth. Lord Finesse might come rolling through – this would just be a typical day. As far as the SP, ‘Cules pretty much just taught himself but when you’re around these guys it just rubs off on you. A good credit to Mister Lawnge – Mister Lawnge is a nasty beat-digger. These are the cats we rubbed elbows with. And of course the guy who’s a god in our eyes in DJ Premier – we would see him when we did some of our recording at D&D Studios, so he’s a very good friend of ours. It was just an amazing time. Gotta give credit to Buckwild, we would pass-off beat stories with him, trade-off records. This was the circuit that we came from. We’ve done shows and freestyled with Jay-Z before he was as big as he was, did a show with Biggie Smalls and Tupac out in Queens…we’ve pretty much done it all.
Those are some good memories.
May not have the trophies or the exposure, but definitely the experience. There’s no dollar amount that I could put on the history or the experiences that we’ve had. Freestyling at a club called Homebase down in Manhattan with LL Cool J, and LL Cool J’s really like an obscure guy who really didn’t show-up much at places, but for some reason he was at this club this night. To have had the experience to trade-off mics with LL Cool J…speaking of Biggie Smalls, if you go back to the ‘Jingle Jangle’ video we were really one of the first cats to be busting-out with the Kangol hats. So when we were doing the photo shoot, Biggie didn’t have no hat, so I gave Biggie Smalls my Kangol hat. So if you look at the picture of Biggie Smalls with a Kangol hat, he actually borrowed that from us.
Going back to the hustler era, there was this designed called Dapper Dan who happened to live in our building in the Bronx. Dapper Dan had this design shop down in Harlem on 125th Street, and basically he would design Gucci jackets, Louis Vuitton jackets, Fendi jackets. Obviously, looking at it now it was knock-off – it actually didn’t come from Gucci – but this is what the hustlers wore. His clientele was Mike Tyson, all the famous hustlers. His designs was the hustler’s choice, they’d go there to get these suits made by him. That shit was big money – it wasn’t uncommon to see somebody like Mike Tyson go down there, drop 10-15 G’s and come out with a whole Gucci outfit on.
$15,000 for a sweatsuit?
For 10 grand you might get the whole outfit – you probably had shoes and a hat to match. You probably got one for your girl, too. We’re talking about 1985, 1986.
What can you tell me about The Rooftop?
Rooftop was probably one of the biggest, most influential clubs that we went to. That was the hustler era, where you would see the likes of Rich Porter, Alpo, AZ – pretty much all the drug lords at that time. You would see people like LL Cool J come down, DMC would be down there. They would come down there just to rub elbows with the drug dealers. It’s funny, the rap stars are the big superstars now. At that time? The drug dealers was the shit! You would see somebody like LL Cool J just tryin’ to inch over and try to be around Alpo and them guys. Another person who was on the scene who gets big, big props, who had a lotta nice jewels, who was good on the scene, was Biz Markie. He got embraced by that crowd a little bit. He picked-up on the fashion and the style pretty well, and he adapted and he linked in good. Right across from Rooftop was Rucker Park, which is the famous park for basketball, which was pretty much a party in itself. All the biggest basketball stars – again, it was a fashion show. All the hustlers brought their cars out. Basically, it would start off in the daytime – Rucker would be the big-time street ball players, the girls would be out there and all the drug dealers would have their cars out – and then in the night time, the club across the street was the Rooftop.
Black Sheep feat. The Legion – ‘We Boys’
The Legion – ‘Once Upon A Time’
The Legion – ‘Rest In Peace’
The Legion – ‘Freestyle Demolition’
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