Tragedy Khadafi – The Unkut Interview, Part 1

Photo: ARMEN

Tragedy Khadafi is considered to be the blueprint of the Queensbridge style of rhyming, which has become world-renowned thanks to artists like Nas, Mobb Deep and Cormega. Even though he never achieved the commercial acclaim of some of those who followed in his footsteps – due to a variety of personal and professional set-backs – his influence and musical vision is still being felt today through those he mentored, such as Capone-N-Noreaga and Killa Sha. Having just come home after three years in prison, Trag is furiously preparing a number of projects, including a solo album, and collaborations with the late Sha Lumi, DJ Phantom and DJ Fresh. With a new single is due out this November, I took the opportunity to discuss some of his earlier work in the first of this two part feature.

Robbie: Tell us about the Super Kids record, ‘The Tragedy’.

Tragedy: When I first came out, I was probably around 12, 13, and my name was MC Jade. When I was trying to come out and get my name up and be heard, I had an individual from my block in Queensbridge, on the 41st side, named Panic. Panic is like an older brother to me, man. Panic was always that guidance for me, especially when I was younger. He had two turntables and a mixer in his room, so when I would stop by his window I would hear him playing records and cutting-up records, and it always intrigued me. So I stepped to him one day and told him, ‘Yo, I wanna go through your records. Let me listen to your records’, so he let me come in the crib, he would let me listen to all his records and I would write my rhymes while I listened to a lotta old school joints, and we started to form a bond. He was actually my first DJ. He went on to produce some things for Marley later on too, but the turntables he had wasn’t actually his – they were Hot Day’s turntables. So that’s how me and Hot Day met, because Hot Day came by Panic’s crib – took his turntables back – and obviously I went to Panic’s to try to make some more music and Panic was like, ‘Yo, I had to give this dude his turntables back’. That’s how I got introduced to Hot Day, and from that point on me and Hot Day started making tapes together.

Hot Day was deejaying at a club called U.S.A., which was located on Queens Boulevard, not too far from Queensbridge. Everybody went there – Dana Dane performed there, Joeski Love performed there, I remember KRS-One performed there – everybody of that early era performed at U.S.A. Hot Day had the equipment, he had the name, and we started making demos. Once we stared making demos we started chasing Marley down, trying to get Marley to listen to us, and Marley kinda came-up with the name ‘The Super Kids’ for us. Then I did the song ‘The Tragedy’, which was like an emanation of my life at the time, growing up with my parents being on drugs and so much of that being a part of my culture, in terms of growing up in Queensbridge. I depicted the story as if it was someone else, but it was really myself. Then I started dealing with Marley, and from there on, you have the youngest member of the Juice Crew and one of the youngest MC’s ever. At that time, I was the first kid rapper! A lotta people don’t know I was the first kid MC – before Kriss Kross, Bow Wow, Lil’ Romeo and all that.

When did Joe Fatal first come into the picture?

When I came home off my first bid. I went away for robbery when I was sixteen – this was right after I recorded ‘Live Motivator’ and ‘The Rebel Is Here’ for In Control, Volume 1. I caught a bid, I went upstate to Elmira, I did a 1 to 3. While I was away I was battling Black Rob every other day in the yard, ‘cos him and I were locked-up together at that time. This was around ’87, ’88. I was battling every day but in my mind I had no intention of coming home and making music. I was bitter with the game, because I remember being on the tier in prison and a guy came up to me and said, ‘Yo man…they call you Tragedy?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘Yo, Big Daddy Kane shouts you out on the back of his record’. So I’m saying to myself, ‘Big Daddy Kane got a record out?’ ‘Cos when I left, we just did the Juice Crew and Kane didn’t have a solo deal. So now he has the album out, and I see all this success, and I’m like, ‘Damn, man! I fucked-up! I shoulda listened to Marley.’ Marley kept telling me, ‘Chill, chill. Stay out of trouble’, but it was hard for me to concentrate on music when I’m like 14, 15 years-old and I don’t have no place to live. I’m basically living everywhere – anywhere I can lay – I don’t have no money. It was hard for me to concentrate on music without a stable home. So now I’m away and I see all my friends – they getting big record deals. I see Kane on the cover of Long Live The Kane and he’s got the Roman Ceaser garb on, he’s got the women feeding him grapes, and I’m like, ‘Damn, he did it!’ I ain’t gonna lie – I was kinda tight – so my initial plan was not to get back into music when I got released. I was gonna go into the air force. So when I got released, I wind-up seeing Marley, and Marley’s like, ‘Yo, I know you been writing. Yo, we gonna put an album out’. Meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Yo, I didn’t write shit!’ He’s like, ‘Yo, I’mma get you a deal!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever’.

When I left to go do my bid, Marley had an old Hooptie and shit. Now I come back, he got a red BMW 525, he got all this jewelry on, so I’m like, ‘Damn, these dude’s really made it happen!’ But again – I’m bitter. Marley’s like, ‘What you doin’? G Rap’s doin’ a show at The Beacon Theatre’. I said, ‘Fuck it, I’ll go’. I ain’t seen G in a long time, that’s my man – I wanna go see him. So I go to the show and Joe Fatal is there with a friend of G Rap’s. He’s like, ‘Oh, shit! You Tragedy? While you was gone everyone was talkin’ about “Yo, this dude is the next dude!” Fatal’s like, ‘Yo, when you gonna recording?’ I’m like, ‘I ain’t even gonna record no more’. He’s like, ‘Nah, son! You don’t understand – you’re the fuckin’ illest! You gotta put an album out!’ I was like, ‘Nah…’ So Fatal was like, ‘Lemme get your number’, and over the course of like three or four months, all he would do was talk about how I needed to come out. We just started hangin’ out and just started vibin’. I didn’t even wanna rhyme no more – I didn’t wanna do nothin’ no more with music. He convinced me to go back in! I can’t front – Joe Fatal helped put that spark back in me. I always gotta give him credit for that, man – he really motivated me. His mother had a Benz and shit, so he used to get his mother’s Benz and he used to come to Queensbridge. He lived in Flushing at the time, ‘cos he used to go to Newtown High School, and he would come to the Bridge in his Benz and come get me every single day. I was going to school at the time, and he would pick me up – take me to school, wait for me to get outta school – and then me and him would go hang out. And every day, all he did was try and drill in my head, ‘Yo, you gotta write! You gotta go back in the studio!’ And slowly, I started coming back in and started writing and started recording. He was a DJ, so it was only right that I put him on as my DJ, ‘cos he had put the spark back in me.

At what stage did you two stop working together?

It was some situations where Fatal and Large [Professor] had some type of business relationship with Eric B. that I didn’t know about. I don’t know the full extent of it, but I think Fatal took some beats on disc from Large and wound-up giving them to Marley and then Marley wound-up using them on the album and Eric feels some type of way about it, and Eric ends up stepping to Fatal while we were coming out the studio. We were coming out of Power Play – I see Eric I was like, ‘Yo, wassup E?’ And he kind like brushed me off, so I was like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with this dude?’ So he walks straight to Fatal and tries to step to Fatal. Now at the time, I had one of my mans with me that was from Rockaway, and he was a little goon, so he was like, ‘Yo Trag, what’s up? What’s goin’ on?’ I don’t really know what’s goin’ on, I just know that Eric is trying to step to my man. Anyway, to make a long story longer – they was gonna try to jump Fatal, and I was like, ‘Yo, you’re not jumping my man. If anything, he’ll fight one of y’all, one-on-one’. It was funny, ‘cos one of the dudes Eric brung with him to jump Fatal – I was locked up with him! So he’s like, ‘Yo E, I ain’t know we was comin’ to see Trag? That’s my man!’ Anyway, Fatal was scared to fight. The dude swung at Fatal – he ain’t even hit Fatal – and Fatal fell on the ground like he was knocked out! So I’m fuckin’ embarrassed, I’m standing there like, ‘Yo! Get the fuck up, man! He ain’t even touch you! You making me look bad!’ [laughs] So Fatal starts shaking his head like he’s in a deep sleep or some shit like that!

After that, it spiraled into a lot of things he was doin’ that I didn’t particularly agree with, like selling discs and all that. Don’t get me wrong, I still got love for Fatal ‘cos he’s a good dude, but I think he got caught-up in the moment, saw some opportunities and jumped on ‘em too fast. Since that point on, our relationship started diminishing. We was young, too, so I took a lotta that type of shit to heart. You falling on the floor, acting like you got knocked-out? ‘You soft, man. I can’t work with you’. Back then I used to base a lot of things on those type of ethics which I don’t necessarily adhere to anymore, being a grown man. Everybody’s not a fighter.

That’s interesting, because he told me that he felt that the fact that he was light-skinned meant he didn’t fit in with the ‘Black & Proud’ image when you released the album.

As far as him saying that his ethnicity didn’t fit in to the equation of my image? That’s not the truth. The truth is that he was doing some things that I found out about later that disturbed me, because – one – you’re getting money, and you’re getting credit for things that you’re not actually doing. So that’s what that’s about – I’mma keep it a hundred.

Marley recently stated that he feels that your second verse on ‘Live Motivator’ was the blueprint for the Queensbridge rhyme style. Do you agree?

I’m not gonna mention no names, but if you listen to that song, and you look at the date of when that song came out [1988], and then you go down a few years and then you hear another profound lyricist come out of the Bridge, you can kinda see where that type of style sparked that other individual. And then you could look at him and look at his date when he dropped and see how the ones that came after him – how he sparked them. So I think that’s pretty accurate in what Marley said. At that particular time, I was Queensbridge. Craig G is nice, but Craig G wasn’t necessarily spitting with a street type of style. Craig G was just a nice MC. My lifestyle and upbringing was a lot different – I emerged from the street. My house was like the corner, so I brung that energy to the music. You had the Juice Crew, but the Juice Crew in it’s totality didn’t represent Queensbridge. Marley represented Queensbridge as a producer. Shan represented Queensbridge in a sense that he made the theme song to the Bridge, but Shan wasn’t originally from Queensbridge – Shan is originally from Brooklyn – and Shan wasn’t in the streets like that. Craig G lived on the block and Craig was just a nice MC. G Rap didn’t live in Queensbridge, Biz Markie didn’t live in Queensbridge, Kane didn’t live in Queensbridge. Roxanne Shante lived in Queensbridge, but she was just a ill female MC. I believe that when I came I represented the streets of Queensbridge when I rhymed. I was the kid who hung-out with the hustlers – I was the kid who started hustling! I was the kid who did robberies, so I brought that energy to the track. I’m not proud of that, I’m just stating the facts. That was all Queensbridge coming out of me at that time. That’s all I knew!

What ever happened to the song ‘Bullet’?

After I got out of jail I had went to LA right after the Rodney King riots, and the smoke is still coming off the buildings. Feeling the intensity in the air – based on the injustices committed by the police – it made me feel some type of way. It evoked something in me and it opened my eyes to a bigger world, in the sense that people are struggling all over, facing the same injustice that they face in New York. This is my first time on the west coast. You could see the division between the so-called law enforcement and the people, and you could tell something’s about to jump-off again. So I’m taking this in, and as I’m crossing the street, I get arrested for jay-walking! When the police put me in the car, they told me, ‘Yo, we killed about sixty of you mother fuckers’. I’m looking at the police in the rear-view, and I’m sayin’ to myself, ‘This shit is fuckin’ crazy!’ So they lock me up, take me downtown and I call A&M Records. They make some calls and they get me outta jail, so then I go right in the studio and I record this song called ‘Bullet’. Ice-T did a similar song [‘Cop Killa’] and they shut him down, but my song ‘Bullet’ was even crazier than Ice-T’s song! The label got some heat and they said, ‘We can’t put this record out’. This fucked me up, because I’m young and I’m naive, and I don’t realize that I’m aligned with big conglomerates, and they answer to bigger entities that are part of one big entity. I’m seeing that I’m not as powerful as I think I am. It came to the point where the president of the label said that if I didn’t want to take the song off the album, he would give me a release off the label without having to give them any money back. So I took the song off and I said, ‘Alright, I’ll just put the song out myself’.

How was that Saga Of A Hoodlum album received?

The album didn’t do too good. I was living in Atlanta, and I started going through a depression, ‘cos I’m not used to the world not feeling me – I didn’t know how to take that. I didn’t know how to take the rejection I was getting on my record! I’m writing songs, but the songs are not coming out the way I want then to come out, and I’m feeling like I’m losing my touch. So I sold my crib in Atlanta, and I go back to where it started – I go back to Queensbridge and I stay with my aunt. Me and Capone wind-up meeting, and we started building on the concept of starting a group. I initially wanted him to be a solo artist, but he kept saying, ‘Yo, my man’s about to come home. His name is Papi [aka Noreaga], I wanna start a group with him’. From that point on, we started building the whole Capone-N-Noreaga thing.

‘LA, LA’ with Capone-N-Noreaga was a big record for you in the underground, right?

That record had to come out, because it was a direct shot at us. Nobody was willing to step up, nobody was willing to address it, so I felt like, ‘Yo, I gotta address this, man’. Everybody kinda let it go over their head. While I was away I read a magazine and dudes are talking about how they were gonna do this and do that, but it’s funny because when I approached certain dudes to get on the record, they act like they were scared! Certain individuals take things and spin ‘em around to benefit themselves and make themselves look good, when in all reality they were running from doing that record. I was like, ‘Yo, c’mon we gotta go after these dudes!’ and they were like, ‘Nah, nah man’. Or ‘Yeah! Yeah! Call me when you got the session!’ And you call them and their phone is off. [laughs] Shit is hilarious.

Continue To Part 2

Super Kids – ‘Go, Queensbridge’

Super Kids – ‘The Tragedy [Don’t Do It]’

Marley Marl feat. Tragedy – ‘Live Motivator’

Intelligent Hoodlum – ‘Microphone Check’

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33 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Big Trag! Peace! This dude is a REAL soldier, fuck dat, a GENERAL. Held it down for 20+ years, regardless to whom or what. Gotta respect that. Never lost a step. I wish you much success my brother. Looking forward to the second part of the interview.

Comment by esteeminatti 10.05.10 @

Yo, i have been listening to TRAGEDY like 20 years now! saw him live in 1990 with Public Enemy and EPMD… i hope his new projects are dropping soon and are as bangin as his previous stuff!!!
Peace Trag!!

Comment by DaGrimeyWay 10.05.10 @

Great read as always. I remember Trag from a show he did at the Octagon opening for Finesse and KRS-1. That crowd wasn’t feeling him too tough. It must have felt fucked the fuck up hardbody to be at home and not getting any love from your peoples.

Trag redeemed himself with the War Report.

This interview got me spinning T.O.N.Y. right now.

1Love to QP’s and QB

Comment by Dallas 10.05.10 @

Great interview Robbie, looking forward to part 2. Peace & Respect to Trag.

Comment by CrateDigga78 10.05.10 @

salute the god!

Comment by swordfish 10.05.10 @

Was that Mobb Deep not wanting to do L.A. L.A?

Comment by DJ DOPEFIEND 10.05.10 @

Great fuckin interview. Tragedy always been a real cat. I’ve been a fan since seeing one of his video’s on Yo! Mtv Raps back in ’90 and then pickin up his album and hearin him on Marley Marl’s “In control Volume 1″ album. I’m from the Bay Area so I didn’t have any dope Hiphop Radio Shows ’til Sway & King Tech started The Wake Up Show in June of ’90 or ’91.

Comment by Shaun D. aka Wicked 10.05.10 @

he didnt have to name any names….we know whassup. forget ill he gets_________

Comment by mercilesz 10.05.10 @

Epic! Best interview on in the 6 years I’ve been reading. Big respect!

Tragedy the Rebel is STILL here!

Can’t wait for part 2. And the new album (I hope?)

Comment by Frost Gamble 10.05.10 @

there’s no other gladiator of the gutter…

still reportin

Comment by Chubz 10.05.10 @

What happened to Scram (his dancer)??

Comment by dlp 10.05.10 @

The God Tragedy is still the “Live Motivator”

Comment by marc davis 10.05.10 @

i wanna hear that bullet song

Comment by immobilarity1 10.05.10 @

Trag is good peoples and I’ve been a fan of his work since the Super Kids stuff. He has a great discography of work. I had the pleasure of working with him when he was signed with A&M. I called the label every day to do promotions for his record in Chicago and I worked that “The Posse” single to death…ha. When I had him in town for a promo run in Chicago it was classic with us hanging out with Rudy Ray Moore and going to The Posse screening together. Trag was real easy to work with and stayed on his grind hitting up retail, radio and whatever it took with no complaints. most artists can’t say that. On the trivial tip, during that trip he also told me about the YZ and Treach fight…ha

Comment by Kevin beachqm 10.06.10 @

great interview as always

Comment by jack in the box 10.06.10 @

lol@the Fatal comment. He wasn’t referring to Mobb Deep, more like Nas. Havoc was even in the La La video.

Comment by The Funkologist 10.06.10 @

Excellent work homie makes me almost ashamed of the operation I’m running lol…

Comment by Queens-HipHop 10.06.10 @

One of the best interviews on this site! It means – one of the best Hip-Hop interviews overal!

Comment by andrewfrumrussia 10.06.10 @

“So I took the song off and I said, ‘Alright, I’ll just put the song out myself’.”
So… did “Bullet” appear somewhere, on a mixtape or something?
Great interview. I love these in-depth interviews were Robbie gets the artists to talk about behind-the-scenes type stuff. Highly appreciated!
Looking for Pt. 2!

Comment by scjoha 10.06.10 @

I guess he wasnt thuggin that night Maino and his boys put the hand of god on him in the club.

Comment by THE BAY 10.06.10 @

Dope interview! Reading this while bumping the latest Black Rage Demos 12″ I just received in the mail. Looking forward to the second part. Peace.

Comment by H 10.07.10 @

nice interview,trag is definitely one of the most underrated dudes to ever grip a mic.

Comment by 4:20 10.07.10 @


I always wondered about Scram too……….Fresh interview Rob..Looking forward to hearing new shit from Trag…

Iron Sheiks part 2 would be ill….

Comment by shamz 10.07.10 @

I was thinking the same thing – he put out “Bullet” himself?

Anyway, can’t wait for part 2!

Comment by Werner von Wallenrod 10.08.10 @

Thats crazy to think he was ripping the mic at 12 or 13 and that he was homeless at 14 or 15 and then in the bing at 16. Dude lived a grown man’s life at childhood, no wonder he’s got such a presence and ability on the mic. Glad he’s out and back doing his thing. Big up Trag and Robbie for such an interesting interview.

Comment by gstatty 10.09.10 @


Comment by BRIX BLANCO 10.11.10 @

What’s good my dude 25 to Life Records rebirth

Prez is back

Comment by PREZ 10.16.10 @

Greatest rapper ever. Grim Team got some hot tracks. I hope to hear Trag over some of em.

Comment by magi 11.24.10 @

im so glad that i found this site man…i can remeber practicin the flyest dance moves on im black and im proud..beat was so ill

Comment by ELL 02.24.11 @

RIP Killa Sha

Comment by BigByrd 11.10.11 @

uR good boyh….4REAL man thats the street shit nigga

Comment by BADman 02.14.12 @

Trag is the truth walk the walk talk the talk always standing in his square at all times this is not something you can duplicate its lived ,… I welcome you back to fill the void in hiphop … True story … Ilion don

Comment by Ilion don 02.21.13 @

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