Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
After beginning his career as a child prodigy of sorts, Keyboard Money Mike went on to have a long and varied career in the music game, and was involved in the earliest records of Ultramagentic MC’s and KRS-One before he was made the Vice President of B-Boy Records. These days he’s involved with everything from producing dance music in Europe to TV commercials (surely keyboard lessons can’t be far off), and was kind enough to take the time to talk to Unkut about the old days.
Robbie:How did you get your name?
Keyboard Money Mike: Two ways that name came up. I was always Money Mike. When I was young I had money because I was on Broadway shows, I was performing in jazz bands, so as I kid I was always making money. I became Keyboard Money Mike – we was on tour with Latifah, MC Lyte, Awesome 2, Public Enemy, Tim Dog, it was a lotta groups on tour. We was at one of the hotels, and Flavor Flav played piano. So I said, ‘Flav, let me play a little something for you’. So I got on the piano and start playing and he says, ‘Yo, man! Keyboard man!’ I said, ‘No, no, no. It’s Keyboard Money Mike’. He said, ‘Yeah, but you’re the keyboard man!’ ‘No, you call me Keyboard Money Mike, Flav’. He like, ‘Who the hell gave you that name?’ And then I said, ‘Ted Riley‘. I did a show with Ted one time, and the way I was playing the keyboards at one the rehearsals, he called me ‘Keyboard’ Money Mike, and that’s when I kept the name.
When did you first start working with B-Boy Records?
Let me just go through my history real quick to let you know how it all came about…Sesame Street is a very popular TV show for children. Big Bird and all those guys. Now I was one of the first Black kids to be on Sesame Street. When I was young, I got into a lot of different things. At the age of four, I got into playing piano – I was very musical when I was a young kid. Every Halloween they have something called ‘Trick or Treat’, where you go to different doors in people’s house and they give you candy and money. Well, when I went to one of these houses when I was young I saw a piano playing by itself, and I ran to the piano and my sister was like, ‘Get back over here!’ Because it was a stranger house. I just ran to the piano, so the stranger said, ‘It’s OK, let him be’, So he cut the automatic piano off and said, ‘You wanna play?’ So I just started bangin’ on the piano like the rhythm that I heard. He was like, ‘Hey, your brother go talent here! If you don’t mind, I’ll teach him?’ My music career started from that day on.
So skipping to Junior High School, they called me ‘The One Man Band’. I played at my graduation and I was highlighted with five different solos – the violin, the upright double bass, the piano, the drums, the saxophone. They featured me in all of these instruments and they thought I was the next best thing. In High School I learned to pick-up more instruments – I was playing in the orchestra band, I was playing the flute, I was playing all the percussion. Then at my graduation in High School i came up with the song for the school teams – and it says, ‘We Can Do Anything’. They played that at the graduation and we had the chorus, we had the jazz band and we had the orchestra band all participated because I had written the score – which was amazing to my teachers that I could score every instrument. Because of this lady called Paula Bean, she saw my talent and she put me on Broadway in the Children’s Theater Workshop called The Mini Merry Players. They was on Broadway, and she put me into the company and I was acting on Broadway for eight years.
Getting onto The Bronx now…I used to DJ in the park, just like Kool Herc did his thing. I was deejaying in the park and I was mixing the music with my beats. I would put my own beats to it, then they would be like, ‘Oh man, this guys plays instruments!’ They was asking, ‘Yo, could you put beats together for me?’ The the word got around – Keyboard Money Mike’s doin’ beats! I met up with Patrick Miller, which is Cedric Miller’s [Ced-Gee] brother, we came together and we formed a group called Tu-Luv. Now Ced-Gee was inspired by what me and his brother was doing. They was very fascinated over my piano playing, ‘cos I used to play for New Edition – I used to go on tour and play with them – I used to play with Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, I used to play with Stephanie Mills, I used to play with High Voltage. So I was already a bonafide musician.
Was this after the Broadway stuff?
Yeah. ‘Cos I was eight years-old when I started on Broadway, and then I ended around ’77, ’79. When I was playing music with those different groups it was from ’79 to ’82, then I came back in ’84 and played some more. Now Ced-Gee, Kool Keith, Moe Love – there wasn’t no TR Love at the time, wasn’t no Tim Dog at the time – we was all in a room and they all lookin’ at me. ‘Yo Keyboard, yo hook up a beat! Let’s do something!’ Kool Keith was rapping like crazy, he was coming in the room saying something we’d never heard before! Either this guy’s crazy, or he’s about to be a crazy superstar. The rap style that he had, you was like, ‘What the..?’ Because in the hood, you’re talking all the scientific breakdown with the brain cells and the cerebellum…’What the hell are you talking about?’ We don’t even know these things. We talking like, ‘What’s good my nigga? Where the ladies at?’ That’s how we was rappin’, so we thought Keith was off the hook! Like, ‘Keith – you are weird!’
I like to make it recognizable that I’m the one who pretty much was saying, ‘Ced-Gee, you be the DJ. Kool Keith, you be the rapper.’ Ced-Gee said at that time, ‘Nah, I wanna be a rapper.’ I said, ‘Well Ced, you can’t really rap!’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I can learn’. I said, ‘Well, who’s gonna DJ?’ He said, ‘Moe Love’, and Moe Love’s sitting at the bed saying, ‘I don’t know how to DJ’. This is all confusing right here, so Ced-Gee says, ‘I’ll teach you how to DJ, and Kool Keith gonna teach me how to rap’. And I was like, ‘OK…he probably crazy! Alright, cool.’ So we did something called ‘Space Groove’, we did tracks before we even got to ‘Ego Trippin’. We was doin’ tracks for about a year, then through a connection in the hood – DNA was the company that Ced-Gee was told about – I was on tour, I was travelling now, so when I heard DNA was interested we went in the studio and we did the song called ‘Ego Trippin’. That was my voice goin’, ‘Ultra! Magnetic, magnetic, magnetic…’ The way I came up with that, I was doin’ the beats all day – now remember, Ced-Gee didn’t know how to do beats. That’s why he apologized – I taught Ced-Gee how to work the SP-12. In the studio, I pretty-much laid down the beat – I sampled a certain loop, and then I changed it to a piano sound. When you hear that piano sound, that’s something that I invented from a sample. We did a few shows together where I brought my keyboard to the show and I would play live. It was kinda a unique way, ‘cos no hardcore rap crew was comin’ through with instruments.
All of a sudden I’m traveling again – see, I’m always working, I’m always on tour. Them – boom – somewhere along the line, Ced-Gee took it to his initiative to move forward, and he didn’t tell me! Then they got signed to Next Plateau – I didn’t know that until I got told about it. So a lotta things went wrong. Me, the type of guy I was, I wasn’t like the ‘real nigga from the hood’ who would pull a gun to a nigga’s head, like, ‘Yo! You tryin’ to play a nigga?’ Boom! I wasn’t that type of guy. When you’re into music and a musician, ‘cos I played thirteen different instruments, you’re life is full of love. I said, ‘Aight, you wanna move on with the group? Ga head, let ‘em go. I don’t care’. I didn’t know nothin’ about credits, at that time. I didn’t know nothin’ about Ced-Gee didn’t put my name as the producer of the track. He claimed ‘Ultramagentic MC’s’ was the producer, which I was upset about. Now, Tony Miller – which is Ced-Gee’s brother, ‘cos you’ve got Pat and you’ve got Tony – Tony came to me with an artist named KRS-One! A group called Celebrity 3. I’m sitting here like, ‘So Tony – who are these guys?’ ‘This is KRS-One, this is Levi-167 and this is Castle D‘.
No Scott La Rock at that time?
Right, Scott was not there at that time. So I said, ‘OK, let me hear what you’ve got’. So they spit for me, and they sounded good. I went, ‘OK, cool. I can work with them’. Everyone was comin’ to me, since no one knew how to make beats or play music but me, at that time in that area. So I was working with Celebrity 3 at first, and then it got to the point where KRS-One came to my house personally, by himself, and said, ‘Look, I can’t work with these guys. I need to do my own thing’. So I said, ‘You know what? You want to break-up? That’s cool. I’ll work with you, Castle D and Levi 167!’ I worked with all of them individually. With KRS-One, we came up with something called, ‘We’ve Got To Advance’. I was the first one to come up with the original, which was a classic at the time. And then, again, here we go again! I went on tour! I wasn’t there, so KRS-One brought Scott La Rock to Patrick, which was my partner, ‘cos KRS-One was signed under Mastermind Productions – which was me and Patrick. I wasn’t there, so he came and talked to Patrick. KRS-One said, ‘Look, this is Scott La Rock, I met him at the shelter and we started working together, but I thought I was signed to you guys. We wanna work something out’. Patrick says to Scott la Rock, ‘OK, no problem. I could sign a release for KRS-One. Just make sure when Keyboard Money Mike gets back you give him $800 and two songs off the album’. That was the famous exchange deal…that never happened to this day! [laughs] So I came back, I’m hearing D- Nice, Scott La Rock and KRS-One are doing things together. I’m like, ‘Yo Pat, what happened?’ He goes, ‘I don’t want to hold these guys back, Mike. They want a release but I told them the deal is you work with them at the same time, so you can do beats and everything’. I said, ‘Well Pat, we don’t release an artist! You just released an artist off our company!’ I was not happy with that at all. This is where Ced-Gee came in, where he worked with them on the album of Criminal Minded.
Because he was the only one with the SP-12 in the area?
Right! The one I taught him on! I don’t think it was mentioned to this day, but Bill Kamarra was at a record company called Candy Records [note: he's referring to Rock Candy Records], and Scott La Rock and KRS-One went to Bill and said, ‘Yo, we wanna put out this song’. I knew Bill from doing music, from meeting him at some sort of event. He called me and said, ‘I remember when you made a song by KRS-One. They just came to me, the music sounds good, we wanna work with something’. I said, ‘It’s all good’, because I had that heart. I wasn’t like, ‘Fuck those niggas!’. They said Candy Records is too soft for them. They don’t want to be under the label’. ‘So what did they say?’ ‘They said B-Boy. What the hell is a B-Boy?’ I said, ‘Bad boy. You know, from the streets. That’s how we talk, Bill’. ‘You can relate to candy, but B? What the hell is a B? That’s a letter of the alphabet!’ I was cracking-up while Bill was saying these things. So Bill said to me, ‘Keyboard, would you work the record company?’ I said, ‘Yeah, no doubt!’ This is where I became Vice President of B-Boy Records.
So it was part of Candy Records?
Candy Records had a classic group back in the days called Blue Magic, but B-Boy records became a branch of Candy Records, but a hip-hop company. We put out Criminal Minded, but I didn’t do nothing off of the original album – but the remix one and the instrumental. I’m the one who went to the studio, after all the DJ’s in the United States sent their version in, I would go into the studio and just change it up a little bit or add a little bit of flavor to it. So I was in the studio for maybe three or four weeks just changing the music up for the ‘Hot Club Version’ and the remix album. Then me and KRS got together and I was like, ‘Yo K, you didn’t get me on the record or nothin’. That’s wack’. He said, ‘Yo, you’re always busy! You’re always on the road. I was tryin’ to get at you. But look, I’m doin’ ‘I’m #1′ so if you wanna come and do this with me, why don’t you come down’. So I went down to Power Play Studio and I heard this beat that he was tryin’ to work with, so I looped the beat for him. Then I got to play the bassline, so I got to collaborate on production on that record.
But let me go back a little – do you remember Kings of Swing? Now these guys could not even get a deal. They were trying to get a deal for years, and they came to me and said, ‘Keyboard, look – we know you’re the man, can you come to the studio and knock this beat out for us?’ That’s when I came in and I helped them out with ‘Nod Yor Head To This’, and then I came up with a record called ‘Stop Jockin’ James’. I came up with that beat and also ‘You Know I Love You Baby’. Those guys gave me mad love, ‘cos they did an interview in Right On! magazine and they said, ‘If it wasn’t for Keyboard Money Mike we wouldn’t have never got signed’. That’s true, because when they signed to Profile, Robinson called me and said, ‘Are you gonna back these guys up if I put the record out?’ ‘Cos he knew I was doing a lotta work. So even though I wasn’t in the people’s ears, the executive industry knew about me.
My first record was on Vanguard Records. That’s 1979! I had some artist singing on there and I was doing my Fatman Scoop voice. I can’t even find that song to this day. Do you know Vikki D? I mention her name because she was on Mercury Records, and I did the track, I was only sixteen years old. I did so much when I was young. I also had my own TV show – it was a cable TV show called The Keyboard Money Mike show. I was doing music videos like Ralph McDaniel, I would come on right after him. He was on a Friday and a Saturday and I was on a Wednesday. You heard of The Temptations, The Paragons, The Drifters, The Teenagers, The Delfonics? I used to play piano in the cockpit. At the age of 16 I was one of the piano players! So my life is crazy as far as musically, acting-wise and doing my own TV show. If it wasn’t for Ultramagnetic MC’s and KRS-One to establish their names to where they are today, you probably wouldn’t even hear my name, But I have worked with several groups besides them. I have worked with hundreds of groups – my whole career, I’ve literally worked with over a thousand groups! Like produced, hours in the studio and things like that…thousands of different groups.
What about Five Star Moet?
It’s funny you said that, I just talked to her last week. We talked about getting back together and doing another ten song joint. I said, ‘You know 5 Star, if we do that it’ll be classic of all time!’ We just may do that, because that was hot what we did back that. Moet was offered several different major deals, but it just didn’t go nowhere because my brother – which is her boyfriend at the time – it just didn’t progress. Do you know Fat Joe? I started Fat Joe’s career. When I had my TV show, Fat Joe asked me, ‘Yo! You got eveybody on your TV show except me!’ I said, ‘Well who are you?’ ‘I’m Latino, I represent the Latino, man!’ Because my show was very popular at the time, I really didn’t have time for Fat Joe, so I said to Fat Joe – which I though would be impossible for him to accomplish – I said, ‘At 6 am Wednesday, I will come in your block. If you’re not there, I’m leaving!’ When I came to Fat Joe’s block, he had fifty Latino’s hanging out in front of his building – at 6am! I couldn’t believe it! I had my camera crew and the whole nine. I’m like, ‘This guy’s serious!’ So I interviewed him for my TV show, he rapped a little bit, we showed him pulling around the block, we did a whole thing on Fat Joe. When we did this, Loud Records gave me a call and said, ‘Who was that Latino guy on your show? I would like to have a meeting with him’. And that’s how Fat Joe’s career got started.
Do you remember Mesasnjarz Of Funk?
My brother brought Mesasnjarz Of Funk to me. He said, ‘Yo, Keyboard – I’ve got Latino’s who rap in Spanish and English! Help me out with them’. So I did a few joints with them.
Can you break down the ‘Ego Trippin’ session for me? Who chose those drums?
I think it was Ced who picked-out the ‘Substitution’ drums. What I did was I hit a regular Grand piano and I sampled it. When I sampled that piano I put it into the track. Then I had the bassline which I played off my keyboard. Two or three years ago, I came back to the States and my cousin said, ‘Ced said he hired you to play on ‘Ego Trippin”. I said, ‘Again?! I’m hearing this again? Gimme his number!’ I call him and left a message, ‘We need to straighten this shit out, once and for all!’ he never called me back. How I go to met Ced-Gee was in the streets of Harlem, 125th street. We walkin’, I say, ‘Yo!’ ‘Yo wassup Key! I was kinda busy…’ ‘Yo Ced, hold up, man. Let me clear something. First of all, I’m hearing rumors. I didn’t care about it back then, but now I need to set the record straight’. He said, ‘Let me say something – I was wrong. The way we treated you back in the days, the way we moved on without you, all that shit, it was young and immature. When I thought about, you were the one who did the beat! Even though I claimed credit, and I apologize for that, I just want to let you know as a man, I’m so sorry for the way I treated you’. He was pouring his heart out on 125th street. I was like, ‘Yo Ced, for the man you are today? I can accept that. What you did yesterday? If I was any other nigga? I’d have been locked-up by now!’ ‘You also was the the one who taught me how to play the SP-12. That’s how I was able to do the Criminal Minded album. I’mma let people know, from now on, when it comes to ‘Ego Trippin’, you was the man behind everything’. Twenty years later! I guess Jesus forgive the world, Jesus came to save the world, I can’t do nothin’ about it. I gotta say, ‘You got 2-3 million offa this shit! I didn’t get shit from it!’ But I didn’t go there. He said he’s gonna make it up to me. He said, ‘I’m working on this project with Bill Cosby right now. I’m handling most of Bill Cosby’s production, and once things get going I’mma get you in there!’
But hang on – you’re saying he made 2 million dollars off ‘Ego Trippin’? That doesn’t sound right.
I’m just saying it as a figure of speech. You don’t know what accumulates over twenty years. Remember, ‘Ego Trippin’ took them around the world! That keyboard sound that I sampled and created, ‘cos I added my little UFO effects to it and al that stuff – today, that sound is in keyboards! Like Sony, Korg…Now I wonder if Ced-Gee approved that? When I bought the Korg and I went through the sounds, I said, ‘Oh wait – this sound like my fuckin’ sound right here!’
Maybe the keyboard guys just ripped everyone off though? What about some of your other B-Boy records? MC Rah-Jah? Wacky Rapper?
Wacky Rapper was me! We were making so much money at B-Boy, I decided to go in the studio. Bill encouraged me, Yo Mike, why don’t you do a track?’ I said, ‘I’m a wack-ass rapper, I can’t do shit!’ He said, ‘That’s a good name! Call yourself wack!’ So I went with it. I had to buy that record off the internet you know. When my house burnt down, I’ve got nothing to show for it. I had my own record label called Keyboard Records. I did a artist called Pre Sweet. Oh my god, that song went big. It was rap, she’s a female. We did mad show off of that song. I also did ‘Strong Island’ but I didn’t get credit for it. I did they major song originally, and because I was vice president I went and mixed all the songs down. remember, I was the production guy! Every record that went through B-Boy Records – Sparky-D, Spyder-D, The B-Girls, LA Star – all of them went through me.
That Levi-167 record was classic.
People overseas know about those songs by credit, but there’s a hundred more songs I worked on that I don’t have credit for. I didn’t know credit was that huge, because it’s your signature. Me and Alicia Keys sat down for two hours, I went to her and said, ‘I can be your sound engineer in London’, ‘cos her sound man was sick. She said, ‘Keyboard, you can’t engineer for me – you’re a legend!’ I’m like, ‘Legend? I need to get this cash!’ A lot of artists – like Lil’ Kim, when I put the show togther for over 2 million dollars in Africa, with Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Wayne, Ying-Yang Twins, Amerie and Brick and Lace, Lil’ Kim ran up to me, gave me a hug – she just got out of jail by the way – she said, ‘Keyboard, everyone’s asking about you? Where have you been? I always hear of you and now I finally get to meet you! It’s an honor’. She said if it wasn’t for me she would never come to that show, ‘cos she heard a lot of rumors about Africa.
It’s funny how artists know of me. I can give you another one – Pharrell. I was in Cologne, Germany, and I was trying to get in the show, they said, ‘Do you know Pharrell?’ I said, ‘No, but I’m sure he knows about me!’ So the promoter wouldn’t let me in so I went to the back where Pharrell comes in. As he’s walking in, my man’s said, ‘Yo Pharrell, Keyboard Money Mike tryin’ to get in and they tryin’ to haul him out!’ He’s like, ‘Who? Keyboard Money Mike? Where’s he at?’ So they pointed at me so I could come in, and he bowed his head as I’m talking to him! For like a good ten seconds! I’m there like, ‘Wow, what am I supposed to do?’ And all the camera’s are taking camera shots. He puts his head up and said, ‘Man, it’s a pleasure! Anything you need, just let me know’. Then he looked at the promoter and he said, ‘Take care of him’ and then he went inside. Now the promoters like, ‘what’s your name again?’ [laughs] You gotta know I’ve got an attitude now, ‘Man! Just get me and my boy in!’ What was really a blessing was when Pharrell snatched me up to come onstage and introduce me to the crowd. There was like 30,000 people out there. That was really, really interesting. I was blessed by artists knowing my name from the past, even though I don’t know the artist.
Oh yeah, if you see Queen Latifah – when you see her, tell her I want my 50 cent coin piece back, OK? Keyboard Money Mike is looking for his 50 cent coin piece. When I gave her the 50 cent coin piece when she was a rapper, I said, ‘Listen – you see this 50 cent coin piece right here? This 50 cents is your lucky charm! You’re gonna be doing more things you can ever imagine you be doing. Movies, TV shows…all type of stuff. When you blow-up, you make sure you either pull me along with you or you give me my goddamn lucky charm back!’ So she said, ‘OK!’ To this day I haven’t seen her yet to tell her the story. I can’t wait to see her. I got stories for days…I got DMX stories. I owned the bottom floor of a building. I had about twelve different offices on the bottom floor, and his company – Ruff Riders – they came to me like, ‘Yo, we’re looking for office space’ and I gave it to ‘em, and they thanked me from that day on.
What’s your favorite record that you’ve been involved in?
Remember Apache ‘I Need A Gangsta Bitch’? I mixed that song down. As a mixer, I had a reputation. Remember ‘I Could Just Kill A Man’?
Yeah. I mixed that down to. MC Lyte had an artist, Isis – I mixed that song down. I teach engineering,I teach vocal lessons, I teach editing as well. When you ask me the question, ‘What’s your favorite hip-hop record of all time>’, not to be biased but ‘Ego Trippin’ is definitely one of the top ones that I would say. That record, to this day, is still crazy! The power of the beat is still there. When Moe Love put that screaming in, it was off the hook. I was telling him, ‘Man, you just made this record a hit!’ I give Moe Love props because he knew nothing about deejaying and then this guy did stuff incredibly on this record. I was like, ‘Damn! You didn’t know shit about that six months ago!’ [laughs] You know Tim Dog? I used to DJ on tour with Tim Dog for a good two years.
From the ‘Fuck Compton’ period?
Oh my god…we went to LA to perform that song! We went to Compton to perform the song ‘Fuck Compton’ and the police had to escort us out, ‘cos the Crips and the Bloods were not gonna let us leave alive!
Who’s idea was that? Seems kinda dangerous…
I would say the record company. It was Tim Dog and Cypress Hill on a tour bus, we toured all over the United States. Of course Cypress Hill lived in LA so they were gonna do a song in LA. We couldn’t get on stage at all! But then we had a college show to do the next day, and Ice-T came to the rescue. They were telling us at the university, ‘You guys won’t be able to perform here or leave the campus because all y’all niggas are gonna be dead’. Ice-T came to the rescue, because Tim Dog and us was all part of the Zulu Nation, so Ice-T was Zulu Nation so he came through and made peace between Tim Dog and the Crips and the Bloods. So we still got to perform at the university, but we didn’t perform the song ‘Fuck Compton’ – which everyone wanted to hear! I don’t know what part of LA we was in, but they hated Compton!
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