Filed under: Features,G Rap Week,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Kool G Rap is the greatest MC of all-time. He may not have achieved the status of LL Cool J, the fame of Jay-Z or the impact of Notorious B.I.G, but he took multi-syllable lyrical techniques to new levels in the late 80’s, paving the way for rapper’s such as Eminem and Big Punisher, while his street-level narratives laid the foundation for Nas and Mobb Deep. Ever since I began Unkut Dot Com in 2004, the Kool Genius of Rap was at the top of my bucket list of rap veterans who I wanted to interview. Eight years later, after countless failed attempts and having spoken to many of the people he’s worked with in the studio, I finally got to spend a couple of hours picking the brain of the great man himself. What better way to round out 2012?
Robbie: What sparked your interest in rapping?
Kool G Rap: Hip-hop in general. At the time it was being birthed in the streets and circulating through the five boroughs. It started in The Bronx but then it started circulating and eventually hit Queens. It was like “love at first sound.” [laughs] It was both sight and sound, because I loved everything about it. The sight of a DJ mixing on two [turn] tables – this was something new to me, I was a kid. Me just experiencing it in general, everything I seen and everything I was hearing at the time. It was like an instant love. Hip-hop seems like it had a tendency to do that, even with the kids generations after me being a kid. Hip-hop makes people gravitate towards it, especially the youth. With the hard drum beats and bass lines and stuff like that, it’s a genre of music that automatically attracts people.
Who were some of the DJ’s who were out in the park when you were growing-up?
It was Disco Twins, DJ Smalls, M&M Crew. These were some of the cats that were the local names in Queens, but these dudes went throughout the boroughs too. They was connected with other DJ cats coming up at the time, but they were very popular in Queens. The Disco Twins would later put out The New York City Fat Girls – after Fat Boys were hot they put out the Fat Girls.
Who were some of the MC’s who were out back then?
One cat was named Silky Sam, there was another cat named Ray Rock. I remember one time at one of the park jams around our neighborhood, Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash came out, and maybe one of the other Furious Five members. It’s so many decades ago I don’t have a vivid recollection of it.
How old would you have been when you saw this?
The first time I experienced a park jam, I was ten years old.
How long after that did you start rapping?
I wanted to do it immediately, but I think when I got to the age thirteen is when I really started sitting there and writing rhymes. I was part of a crew with a couple of kids where I was growing-up at. I’d moved to Lefrak City, Queens – where my man Noreaga from – I lived out there for three years and I formed a crew with some cats. We were called Rapperteers. It was me and another rapper and a couple of DJ’s. We were doing little house parties and stuff like that. That was my first brush with really writing writing and rapping in front of people and the crowd and things like that. I was thirteen years old.
Were you called Kool G Rap back then?
Yeah, I was still Kool G Rap then. First it started off with me and my man Prince, and then we linked up with another one of my peoples from my old hood in Corona – my man named Rah Dog. Rest in peace to my man Rah Dog, he passed away in the recent couple of years. We was called Sure Shot Spree when we first started and it was just me and Prince, and then when we linked up with my man Dog we changed the name to Rapperteers.
Were you doing any shows?
Nah, we was trying to make records and get records out there. It was one time we were trying to do something with Disco Twins, ‘cos they had a full-blown studio – in the 80’s! [laughs] They was one of the few people from the hood that had an actual recording studio. We did some recording with them, then we linked-up with my man Hurby Luv Bug, the one that used to manage Salt ‘N Pepa, Kid ‘N Play, Kwame. We was working with him at one point, then later on it would turn out to just be me trying to get it popping myself. Linked-up with [DJ] Polo, then Polo brought me to Marley Marl and that’ how the whole Juice Crew thing happened.
How did you meet Polo?
Eric B. introduced me to Polo, and Polo was looking for a rapper, ‘cos the rapper Polo was working with at the time was saying he didn‘t want to do promotional shows or anything like that. He wanted to get paid for anything, and Polo was looking for somebody that was willing to grind, and I was willing to grind at the time ‘cos I was young and hungry.
Did you have any street battles that stick in your mind?
One time, me and Mikey D had a little street battle. This is before I started making records. Mikey D was nice – he was nice back then and he’s nice now. He got the edge over me, but I wasn’t mad about it. It made me come harder next time. It was accapella – I spit a couple of verses, he spit a couple of verses. I think he got the edge over me, but I’m not ashamed to say it because Mikey D was nice!
It’s crazy how “It’s A Demo” was the first song to rock the whole “Funky Drummer” break, considering how popular that was afterwards.
Right! One of the other artists that came, like a little before “It’s A Demo” dropped was BDP and I think they had a section of that sample too in “South Bronx”. They used like a little piece, but was hot how they flipped it, too. [chuckles]
Who was that whole part at the end of “Poison” about, when Polo says: “They gonna bite this just like they bit “It’s a Demo,” man. Word up, you know who we talking about, you big fat sap sucker” thing about?
I don’t know, ‘cos that wasn’t me saying it. I can’t read minds, nobody made it apparent to me who they were talking about. I don’t think it was one isolated person or group or nothing. I think Polo was just saying it in general.
So it wasn’t about Steady B?
Nah, that’s just people assuming things.
How did you know Eric B.?
I was close with his brother [Ant Live], and that’s how I met Eric B. I met him through his brother and then him and me became real tight.
When did Dr. Butcher join the crew?
Butcher came a little after I dropped my first single. Drew was one of my homies in the hood, and he was deejaying at the time. He had just started to really get into it deep, and he was getting nice with the cuts and scratches and all that. So I kinda snatched-up Butcher and started bringing him out to shows, bringing him in the studio, letting him do cuts and stuff like that. It wasn’t to step on Polo’s toes, it was to add more excitement to the Kool G Rap and Polo group as a whole. Like when LL came out, he had Cut Creator first and then he came out Bobcat – and Bobcat was bananas! So to me at that time, Polo woulda been my Cut Creator and Butcher woulda been my Bobcat! [laughs]
Can you tell me about the influence of Silver Fox on your early style?
Absolutely. One of my man’s from Lefrak City father owned a club, like a little after-hours spot in Harlem. My man used to go up there and DJ in his fathers club, we used to all go up there. Me and my man that I was rapping with at the time – Prince – we used to go there and hit the mic and be rapping. One night Doug E. Fresh came in, and then another night Silver Fox came in. I would go up there, two or three times and bump into Silver Fox, because he used to come there the most. So me and Fox kinda got cool, and I looked-up to Fox, too. To me, he sounded futuristic – he sounded ahead of his time, so I was very influenced by him.
He seemed to be one of the first to develop that multi-sylable rhyme style. Did he help you develop your flow?
Absolutely. I was very inspired by Silver Fox, and Silver Fox had a lotta influence on what G Rap would develop into in the later years. I don’t let that be no mystery, I’ve mentioned Silver Fox name in damn-near every interview I ever did. I’ll always give it up for my dude.
Was LL hanging out with him at that same club?
I met LL through Silver Fox one time. I went up there to the club and Silver Fox came in and he was with LL and he introduced me to LL. LL told me, “Yo, my name is Ladies Love Cool James and I’m about to take Run-DMC out!” [laughs]
So he was always confident I see…
Run-DMC was the face of hip-hop at this time, so for him to say that was a hell of a statement to make! But a couple of years later, LL would come out and he would definitely rival Run-DMC all on his own.
I noticed that you never tried to do that Run-DMC “Shout Rap” style. Why was that?
I had to be me. With my voice, I don’t sound right when I start yelling and projecting my voice louder than it’s natural tone or it’s natural frequency. My voice will start to crack and all that because I’ve got a slight raspy voice. Whenever I project my voice, it becomes raspy, but when I’m talking like I’m talking now – cool, calm – my voice don’t really crack-up or get too raspy. But when I start to project it, like when I’m in the mic booth and doing vocals, it starts to crack and get raspy. I couldn’t even do the yelling thing if I wanted to. Plus the yelling thing wasn’t me.
“Rikers Island” was a serious jail record for the time. Fat Boys “Jailhouse Rap” wasn’t exactly on the same level, right?
[laughs] It was just coming from that element. I was very much into the street life and street things, and every time I sat down to write, the things I’m involved with or around the most started to come out on paper. It wasn’t like I made a conscious decision, like, “Yo, I’mma talk about street shit all the time!” That’s what would come out, ‘cos I was so surrounded with it and involved with it. Before the rap thing started to take-off for me, I was in the streets, doin’ things.
“Road To The Riches” has been a very influential record over the years. What was the reaction when you dropped that?
The song and the album, the streets gravitated to as soon as it dropped. I think people was already checking for me because of the singles I released ahead of time, so dudes was already looking out for the album. So the first day my shit dropped, we were driving around and I was hearing my shit banging in car after car after car. [laughs]
That must have been rewarding.
Yeah, it was definitely a sense of accomplishment, coming from where I was coming from. Working with this one, trying to get out there and working with another one and trying to get out there, and then finally I got to the stage where I’ve singles out there that actually hit. They was bumping my shit in clubs, people was loving it, the streets was feeling it. When I dropped “Rikers Island”, people was bangin’ that. I hd their attention, so now when I put out the album, it really gave people a full description and a full vision of what G Rap is and what G Rap is about. It definitely gave me a feeling of accomplishment.
What was your first record to get any radio love?
“It’s A Demo” didn’t really hit the airwaves like that, except for hip-hop shows. “Road To The Riches” they played a little bit, but I guess it was too rough for ‘em. By the time I did my second album, Streets of New York, the radio jumped on that A little later when I dropped “Ill Street Blues” they was bumping that hard on the radio hard, like you would hear that play like four or five times a day.
“Road To The Riches” was your first video, right?
“The Symphony” was my first video, but you right though, “Road To Riches” was my first video for my own project.
Didn’t you rap so long on “The Symphony” that the tape broke?
It didn’t break, it just rolled-off the reels. [laughs] Those were those times before Pro-Tools and all that. We was doing everything analog then. We had reel-to-reel tapes and all that.
Did you a Big Daddy Kane have a friendly rivalry as to who could drop the illest verses?
Oh yeah, I think it was a competition thing. Anytime you put two lyricists in the same environment it’s gonna be good, because people ride off the energy of other people. Even later on in the years when I would rappers up under me, they’re feeding off my energy, I’m feeding off their energy too. It was a very subtle competition thing between me and Kane, but it wasn’t like how these dudes do today. It was more constructive, it was more of a positive thing. We encouraged each other to keep pushing harder, just raise it another level up, another notch up.
The same way another athlete is trying to perform better for that gold medal at the Olympics.
Absolutely. Two crazy lyricists keeping each other on our toes. But it wasn’t even just like that with just me and Kane. It wasn’t just between me and him – we trying to keep up with the Rakim’s and the KRS-One’s at the same time! Whenever I didn’t get drive or inspired by something that Kane did, then it was something that Rakim did or something KRS-One did. I’m sure I inspired them as well.
That’s like when Chuck D heard Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” he went and made “Rebel Without A Pause” just to try and outdo them.
[laughs] Right. “Rebel Without A Pause” was fuckin’ phenomenal. That was the first time that the masses heard the “Transformer” cuts all at once like that. If you wasn’t there in person to see Jazzy Jeff live deejaying or Cash Money deejaying live then you had never heard that “Transforming” shit before “Rebel Without A Pause”.
The record that stood out for me was always “Men At Work”. Can you tell me about making that record?
You know what? The first verse of “Men At Work” and the verse off “Symphony” was all one long rhyme I had recently wrote. When they called me to go in the studio to do “The Symphony”, that’s why the reel ran off the tape! If the tape hadn’t of run-off the reel, you would’ve heard the first verse of “Men At Work” and then it woulda went into the first verse of what I laid on “Symphony”, and that would have been one long-ass verse. [laughs]
Would you usually just have a book of verses you would bring to the studio?
Yeah that’s what I was doing. When I recorded “It’s A Demo” I was 17 years-old, so I didn’t have no idea of how you put records together. I would have a verse that’s like four or five minutes long, so I had to start chopping shit down to make like verse one, verse two or whatever. I wouldn’t start writing to construct a record or song until many years later.
“Streets of New York” era?
Right. My second album was when I really started writing to make a song. My first album, I was fresh out the gate. I was coming out wild, swinging [chuckles].
What happened with the radio boycott over “Truly Yours”?
That “other community” got a little sensitive behind it and I heard that they boycotted one of the stations in California that added the record into rotation. They snatched my record off the air, they snatched my album off the shelves at a real crucial point in my career. I might’ve had a Gold record with Road To The Riches if it wasn’t ‘cos of that. But when I constructed the record, I wasn’t trying to single no one out. It was just me having fun with a record.
Do you remember the version of “Raw” with both you and Kane on it?
Yeah, we did that after the single “Raw” had come out and hit hard. One day Marley called me to the studio, and Kane was there laying a verse to it. Kane and Marley were like, “Yo, jump on this , G.” And it just happened to be a classic, uncut version of “Raw.”
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