Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Is It Live Or Is It Memorex?,Non-Rapper Dudes
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Legendary New York live rap promoter Peter Oasis, who founded LiveNDirect with Zvi Edelman, shares some of his memories of his long career as a party supplier…
Robbie: What was the first show you ever promoted?
Peter Oasis: Fifteen years ago, the first rap shows that I ever promoted were Dutchmin, who were on Dolo Records. My first show was Dutchmin and another crew called Kukoo and Da Baga Bonez, who ran with Mista Sinista. After that I hooked-up with Joe at Fat Beats and we put together a showcase for the record shop. At the time there were underground shows, but there weren’t mega underground shows, and this one show that we did featured all the Fat Beats artists that they were distributing and selling at the store on 9th street at the time. Company Flow, The X-Men, J-Live – he’s awesome, he’s one of my favourites – The Cracker Jax, Rob Swift‘s group. That was the first 12″ that Fat Beats ever put out on their label. From that show I made relationships with a lot of those acts, and as I moved-up and started booking bigger names I took a lot of those acts and had them open up for bigger shows. For instance, Non-Phixion came back and they rocked at Tramps with Run-DMC and Large Professor. I still have an allegiance and a real loyalty to a lot of those acts – those were the first acts I knew, way before anything. We all started out together.
What was your inspiration to get into that aspect of the business?
I started in nightclubs. I started booking mostly club nights or the hip-hop room at the big dance hall – big house nights with big house DJ’s and I would do the side rooms or the side promotions of those dance clubs. At that time I mostly worked with Stretch Armstrong and Mighty Mi and Roc Raida and DJ Eclipse and Jab from Fat Beats and Bobbito. For Bobbito, those were his first gigs where he would actually DJ at. He would play at a club called Vinyl on Hodgson street. I think Stretch would spin one week and Bob and Eclipse would spin alternate weeks, and Lord Sear would host every week. He’d be cracking jokes and talking to people from the DJ booth. It’s really because of Fat Beats and Joe that I was able to enter a new realm and to work with live music, ‘cos I didn’t know personally that I wanted to be a live promoter. I was a teenager, and all I knew was dance clubs.
It was a tough time in New York in the mid 90’s ‘cos rap groups didn’t play the major venues that were owned by the big corporations. Most rap shows played at clubs nights, most of those nights usually ended in fights. The Tunnel was still the place for rappers to play, and when the Tunnel closed they started playing Speed. So I had a lotta competition with those clubs, ‘cos acts would come to town and they’d wanna play Tramps, where I booked, and they also wanted to play at Club Speed or the Tunnel. You wanted exclusivity, so a lotta the time acts were put in a position where they had to choose either the nightclub night on Sunday at Speed and the Tunnel with Funkmaster Flex, which in turn would get them more radio play, or play a more legitimate venue which would be reported to Pollstar – the concert promoter statistics magazine at the time. If you look at the history of groups who chose to play at Tramps or Wetlands or Irving Plaza and the more legitimate venues went on to have more prosperous touring careers. Guys like Outkast or Eminem or Common or Mos or Kweli, they pretty much set the tone for their entire career as touring artists.
Can you explain the importance of being featured in these booking agent publications?
As an act it’s a benefit to be with a powerful agent who will kick the door down for you to play. For me as a promoter, I feel more comfortable buying talent through a reputable agency as opposed to doing a hand-to-hand deal with the manager. A lot of the time hip-hop managers are so unorganised. It’s not that they’re bad managers, but they play by different rules. A lot of rap managers of fly-by-night rap acts are really hesitant to deal with promoters, because promoters have such a bad name. Tribe Called Quest made a song about shady rap promoters!
Some stuff went down last time Wu-Tang toured where only half of them billed actually turned up to perform. Have you dealt with them much?
My earliest Wu-Tang shows were solo shows. They were Ghostface shows, The RZA when he had the Bobby Digital project and Method Man. To me, those are the most important Wu-Tang acts, as solo artists, in New York, that actually sell tickets. The rest of them don’t actually sell tickets on their own – they have to be creatively packaged in order to sell tickets. Ghostface, to this day, is still a major ticket seller. He did a great job and he had great management to get to that point. And great music, right?
Him, Raekwon and Cappa did a great set at the Mobb Deep reunion show in 2011.
You brought up a good point that Mobb Deep‘s band was horrible in your review on your site. I started tweeting from that review about how I hate rap groups that play with bands. Unless you’re The Roots or Stetsasonic, you have no business being backed by a band. That may be the hip-hop purist in me, but 9 out of 10 times – or maybe even 10 out of 10 times – when a rap group plays with a band behind them it never sounds right, ‘cos they can never recreate the drum sounds! Only ?uestlove can create the sound the MP[C] or the SP behind a set of drums. From what I’ve seen, I’d rather groups never play with a band. I think that was a model that was made-up by the agents at the bigger companies who wanted to sell the rap groups to a college audience. They were like, ‘What can we do to make this guy softer? Let’s put a band behind him! That makes him softer to the buyers.’ That’s something horrible that came out of the booking agency world in the 90’s.
Who were some of the first groups to do that?
Obviously Stetsasonic and The Roots I liked with a band. Common, for a while, played with a band. The band was called The Black Girl Named Becky. Even when Common had the band he still incorporated the DJ with him. If I was a rapper I wouldn’t play with a band – maybe a horn section, maybe a back-up singer, but in hip-hop there’s nothing that can replace the DJ.
What was the turning point for you as a promoter?
When I made the transition from booking independent music to more established groups, the one show that stood out to me was Ultramagnetic MC’s that I did. That was the first real group that I worked with and I had the opportunity to attach my name to it. That opened the floodgates – for about four years in New York I was doing every major tour that came through. Every show that came through New York was a Live N Direct show whether it was Run-DMC, Outkast, Dirty Mob, KRS shows…I’ve done every show you could do. My two most biggest shows that stand out, of every show that I’ve ever done, were Eminem’s coming-out show in New York where Eminem was the headliner. MF Doom was actually the first act that night, before Doom was rocking a mask, he was a little thinner. The middle act on that show for that was Sir Menelik. So there you go – you had the ultimate underground show! I think that was the tipping point for underground music. Marshall went on, of course, to become a major star, MF Doom went on to become who he is today – this mystery behind the mask. I think that show was important. The other show which stands out more than any show was when Big L was murdered. I had gotten a phone call from Finesse, who’s a friend of yours and a friend of mine, on the day that Big L was killed. I wasn’t heavy on the internet then, I got the news like everyone else by listening to Hot 97. I got a phone call from Finesse – I remember exactly where I was in my mother’s bedroom back in my house in Queens – he spoke for about an hour and a half. he was like, ‘Listen, I just lost my brother Big Pun, and now I lost Big L. I‘m gonna go back and ask everyone in the crew if they still wanna do this show.’ ‘Cos we had a show that was advertised, it was a Diggin’ In The Crates show with everyone in the crew – including Big L. We had to go back abd revise the flyers, and a Diggin In The Crates show became a tribute show for their brother Big L.
Was that at Tramps? I got the vinyl of that.
Yep. And from that show came the intro to the Gangstarr album, ‘Big L Rest In Peace!’. Premier was on the turntables all night long, said, ‘Put Your L’s Up! Big L Rest In Peace’’ Over and over. I remember Fat Joe rolled up with fifty soldiers – like deep – they stood on line like soldiers, he came in, he wrecked his set. He ran through fifteen to twenty minutes of it and tore the club down. When ‘Flow Joe’ started to play, people just erupted! You could feel the floor. I think I may have done one of Big L’s last shows – he came out during a Brand Nubian show at Tramps and did two or three songs. He was supposed to come back again on the Diggin’ show and he never made it, and it’s pretty sad. Those are my two favourite shows, everything else I could care less about, to be honest. Before Twitter and before social networking, it was a different experience for the fans to go to Fat Beats, grab your ticket and get to the venue and bring the 12″ of your favourite act and wait for them to sign that 12″ and catch a picture.
Why don’t the older artists still draw those crowds like they used to?
A lot of people who are in their 30’s have seen a lot of these acts in their prime and could care less. When we get older, we have other obligations, and to the 30-something New York rap fan who has been over-exposed to hip-hop for the last 20-some odd years, and had the opportunity to see some of these acts? I think it’s not a priority. And a lot of these acts you see in the street, you see them around, so it’s not much of an event. My favourite acts, I would never be able to book them at all, because nobody would come to see them! A lot of the times I’m forced to books stuff just because they can sell tickets. A lotta times when I book the older act that I like and they don’t do the business, and that’s why I have to pair them with a newer act. That’s why if you come to my show you may see Redman but you may also see Action Bronson. That’s alway been the formula for my shows – the old and then new. What’s next, what’s now, what was. In New York, that’s the only way to get people out of their house.
What were some of the first clubs you used to see shows at?
My earliest clubs were Homebase, the Tunnel, The Shelter. I was big into the dance scene. People hate the hip-house era – I actually liked the hip-house era! I’m sure that era brought us some horrible records and forced us to listen to a lot of our favourite artists over Todd Terry beats, but I came from that era.
What part of Queens are you from?
Ozone Park. The only rappers that came from our neighborhood were the Young Black Teenagers! Those were the first rappers I ever saw. They had a record deal, they came through the park, they had varsity jackets on, they had gold on…to me, that was like seeing LL Cool J! Here I am, a big Run-DMC fan and LL Cool J and Public Enemy, and now our neighbourhood has a rap group that actually kinda made it, that’s on MTV. To me, that was huge. That’s the first time I’d even saw hip-hop. I come from a middle-class Italian-American neighbourhood, and we all tried to dress like we were down with hip-hop – but we didn’t even know any Black people! And now you have Young Black Teenagers calling themselves Black but they’re white! Very confusing to me!
What’s the wildest thing that’s happened at a show you’ve put on?
There was an artist, who I will not name, who asked me to shut the bar down at the show because of his religious beliefs. He left the venue for two hours, and he refused to perform until his manager got him back to the venue. He wouldn’t perform, he said, ‘Nah, I’m a Muslim. I can’t perform if the bar’s open.’ There’s personal moments, like watching Eminem in the basement of Tramps, rhyming to himself with his Walkman on, facing the wall, practicing his lyrics. To see how dedicated Marshall was, I have respect for him forever. Funny enough, fifteen years later I booked Peter Gunz son, Corey, and backstage at the show Corey had his iPod on and he;s going over his lyrics before he hit the stage, and that brought back memories of Eminem.
The wildest moment that I ever had was when I booked Kool G Rap for a show at venue in New York that I didn’t do much business with, but I was loosely affiliated with. I booked the show with Kool G Rap, Ghostface and Cannibal Ox, and the show didn’t do well at all. The promoter and the venue owner refused to pay Kool G Rap his money, so at the end of the night we’re sitting at this table and I’m fighting, ‘Yo, you have to pay him! He came here, he did his show, he killed it. you have to pay him!’ That night, the guy went upstairs, he went to the vault and he gave G Rap his money, and I never walked into that venue again – ever! They gave Ghostface his money ‘cos they knew they would have to do business with Ghostface again, but G Rap’s star wasn’t shining as bright as Ghostface, so they thought they could get away with shorting him, and that offended me, ‘cos G Rap is my favourite rapper. He’s one of the first to rap about Italian mobsters who came from my neighbourhood – so it’s personal to me! Fighting for him to get his money was the highlight of my career – and a very awkward moment!
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