Filed under: Features,Interviews,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',Tragedy Special
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
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 , 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.
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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