Filed under: Interviews,Jersey? Sure!,Not Your Average,The 80's Files,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Duke Bootee‘s Beauty and the Beat label was responsible for hardcore, speaker-smashing classics such as ‘King Kut’ and ‘Triple Threat’ and ‘Hard To The Body’. The latter was performed by a teenage crew from Elizabeth, New Jersey by the name of Point Blank MC’s. Lead MC Shimrock sat down with Unkut to tell his story about Rap Life in Jersey in the midst of the crack era.
Robbie: How did the Point Blank MC’s come about?
Shimrock: The crew was put together by our manager, Ahmed Ishmal. We were young kids. One guy’s my cousin – Mr. Bee. Another guy, Short Man, he was real short, but he was the same age. Another guy was a Spanish [kid] named Everlast – me and him still friends today, actually. I was always into something – I was boxing at the age of 9, and the city knew me already for boxing. You winning all your fights out here? They put you in the newspaper.
I didn’t know you could compete that young!
It’s like comedy, ‘cos they’re just swinging. Just a bunch of punches, man. People throughout my city knew me already. I had three brothers, so we had the neighbourhood already! Before the drugs, before the rap – I was already pretty known. Nobody was gonna mess with me – I had one brother younger than me and two brothers older than me, and we all had two or three cousins of our age, so we were pretty comfortable.
What age did you start rapping?
I started around 14, and we went in the studio when I was 15. I started off in a dance group, and we were noticed like that. We were a talent show so our manager noticed me and my cousin and another cousin of mine who were in the dance group. He already knew the DJ – Finesse – and I picked-up Everlast and asked him if he wanted to be in the group. We were doing shows, and we’d never actually been in the studio before Duke.
How did you get introduced to Duke Bootee?
My manager sought him out and presented the group to him as First Class. We changed our name to Point Blank MC’s after our meeting with Duke.
How were the sessions with Duke?
He listened to us first, then called us back for a meeting with beats. Then he’d give us the beats he wanted to hear what would go to it. If there was nothing then we would make something.
Did you work with any of the other crews that Duke Bootee produced?
It was separate until we did shows. Word of Mouth grew-up in the same town as us, so we knew them and hung-out some time with Ali G. Word of Mouth were out before us, actually. By the time our song came out, they were doing a little travelling. We were still local.
What about the Z-3 MC’s?
I only met them a couple of times. They weren’t from Jersey.
Were the singles based on your routines?
That’s the way most of the songs were written. ‘Hard To The Body’, I actually wrote the parts for most of the guys. Some of the other guys wrote their verses, but I wrote the back-and-forth parts.
Did you get paid for the records or just from shows?
Just shows. That’s how it was back then. It was only singles, and they asked us if we wanted to make a record, put it out and not worry about getting paid? Or did we want to wait around for a great deal? We was kids, so we said, ‘We wanna make the record!’. We weren’t tricked at all. We knew what the deal was.
What kind of response did you get to your two singles?
Oh man, we were little stars! We did a lotta things with [DJ] Cheese, we travelled a little bit. We were pretty popular just from those two songs – not worldwide, but it did travel a little bit through Duke Bootee. We did shows in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
That must have impressed the girls at high school…
We were the stars of the town, man. It was either us or the drug dealers. I don’t know if you read about it, but it got real big in Elizabeth that following year. Guys we grew-up with – they called themselves the E-Port Posse [Bilal Pretlow’s notorious crew].
Were you cool with these guys?
They were at our shows. If we had a show, they were there. Some of the guys eventually started rapping as well, under the same organization we was under – not under Duke Bootee, but our management. Once we split-up, some of our guys started hustling and became kinda rivals with the guys, but everyone that’s still alive is cool with them now.
What kind of changes did your city experience when the crack era hit?
Our city has heavily burdened with the drug era in 1987. People were murdered and chopped-up. The E-Port Posse have books written about them, and these guys I was in class with! A couple of the guys, we grew-up together. We had no idea how dangerous they were about to be. They were pretty smart for a while – they had a good two-year run. It was a short period but it was real powerful. Between us rapping and the city, and the drug dealers and the city. It was crazy. If you look at Brooklyn and places that really did big in the west coast, those guys merged together and sponsored the rappers. But we never developed to that…
Who was your main influence at the time? Run-DMC?
Definitely Run-DMC and big crews like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. We saw them perform as kids, at 10-11 years old. We saw Run-DMC in out city, LL Cool J, Fearless 4 at the Ritz Theater. When we started performing we actually did shows with a couple of guys – like Biz Markie actually lived in our city for a little while with his DJ, Cool V. So we did a lotta stuff with Biz Markie.
He seems to have lived everywhere, he was always shouting-out different neighborhoods on his records.
Right, like you couldn’t tell where he lived. That’s how he started his career – wherever the Juice Crew went, he went. He’d stay in somebody’s house. He brought guys to Elizabeth, that became stars later, like Big Daddy Kane. He brought them guys and we’d perform with them, before they even made records. They remember us like remember them – I could see them today and they would know who we are. Our crew was so diverse – we had a Spanish guy, we had a short guy who could break-dance, spin on his head and flip – that was Short Man.- he was amazing for the size that he was. Our DJ was good, too.
Can you run us through one of your live shows?
We started off – Short Man come out and flip, I come out and flip. That’s how we started – running out to the stage, flipping! A lotta crowd participation. We did harmonizing like the old school guys, like Crash Crew. Then we’d go into the rhymes. Before we even made records, we were harmonizing. We did a ‘Ain’t No Stopping First Class’, we did a ‘We Are The World’ but we did ‘We Are First Class’. Our first show was 1985, October 5. Our manager made beats on the beat machine for us. We did some of our songs like that, with scratches going over the beat by our DJ.
Was this on Linn Drum, a DMX or an 808?
It was a DMX, we didn’t have the 808. Cheese might’ve had the 808. If we went to Plainfield, it was a Cheese party. He would invite us, maybe Biz Markie and Righteous O’Real, who had formed a group with two girls – Light ‘N Lively, I think they were.
How long were these sets?
About 20 minutes, until we started growing. Then we’d do a show about 40 minutes. We had couple more songs to work, a couple of solos. I started doing solos, so they’d give me a little solo break. I used to wear balls on my hat. I used to wear a hat with little cotton balls on the brim, and a couple of us wore racoon tails on the back of the cats. I made a song called ‘Shimrock Wear Balls On His Hat’. I can walk through my city today, ‘cos I don’t live there now, but when I walk through there, some of the people sing that song to me. [sings the hook].
[laughing] You must’ve made quite an impression if people still remember that.
They laugh because it was so long ago and we were kids, but that’s what they remember. They joking and laughing but that’s something I did twenty-something years ago, but it’s still on their minds…
What was the best show you ever did?
We performed with a group called Blue Magic, and they said we were going over the time limit. We kept going – they shut the lights down, everything. Our mics were still on, we kept going until security came and got us off the stage! That was in Broadway, that was one our big performances. The crowd loved the idea that we kept going! We did a few shows in New York that was memorable too. We did a show with KRS-One and the Poet was battling in Queens at a skating rink. We were the middle act. We came out, little kids – and they was rough out there, it wasn’t no joke!
Because of the Bronx vs Queens thing?
It was kinda dying down at that time, but it was still pretty screwface in there. Everybody was pretty mean looking in there. But they loved us! We were entertainment, you know?
What happened at the battle?
It was just songs. It was a little bit off the cuff – not too much. I don’t think they wanted to get too drastic in there. I think they battled a couple of times, that was just one of them.
Did you get any problems on the road since you from Jersey?
It was a little rough for Jersey, but we was too young to even care. When they saw us, they were surprised how little we were, doing this rap thing, and they loved it! We were entertainers, so they loved it. It was a break in the monotony for them.
Who were some of the other artists you opened for?
We performed with KRS-One, Black Thought, Grand Puba Maxwell, Big Daddy Kane, Joeski Love – who Biz Markie brought – and a few other guys. That went on for a while and then we slowly start splitting-up.
What caused you to drift apart?
It was a lotta talk in the city that broke us up. Guys were influenced by other people speaking about the amount of money were getting – or not getting – so everybody started going their separate ways. A couple of the guys started hustling, actually.
Did you keep making music?
I went my separate way as well. I travelled the world, ministering – teaching.
Where did you travel when you went overseas?
I went to Africa in ‘92. A few islands – Dominica, Guadeloupe.
As a missionary?
Yeah, teaching and preaching. I switched from doing shows to talking about god, in high school. You know at that age, whatever you’re going to do, you do it! [laughs] I feel like if I wouldn’t have been doing that I would’ve been killed, or in jail, because I was too close to the guys who were rolling hard.
After going through that for four years – hard, like I was doing – I didn’t want to get caught-up in any religious sect after that, because it really took over my life. It saved me in a sense, but at the same time I look at it like I probably would’ve been a big rap star. It took over my life.
What made you stop?
It slowly happened. Our leader – the preacher or the pastor or whatever you want to call him – he started changing. He started getting selfish, and it was showing! [laughs]. I had two of my brothers who were teaching and stuff with me, who slowly left this guy, and a couple of friends. Even Cool V’s brother was with me – Cool Craig. The leader, he started really getting into the women, so it made me start looking at myself. If people are going to be selfish then I need to check myself and look after myself. That didn’t change my mind about god, it just changed my mind about what I was doing.
After about four or five years I came back, and me and one of the guys started a group that really didn’t really take-off, but we had a little bit of a buzz in the local area because of the former name. It was me and Everlast, the Spanish guy, but that didn’t really jump-off the way we thought it would.
What was the name of your group?
Lead Poison. We recorded a couple of songs, did a couple of shows but it didn’t really take-off. Started having kids and raising families.
Did you know the Flavor Unit guys?
We partied with the guys but we never recorded with ‘em. I spat in front of Treach and Tupac in the alleyway. At the same clubs that we went to to party, they were there drinking 40’s. Right after Tupac did the movie Juice.
Rare footage of a live Point Blank MC’s performance:
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