Filed under: Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Staten aka Shaolin,The 90's Files,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Kool Kim and Hass G began as the UMC’s (The Universal MC’s), a duo from Staten Island. Best remembered for the hit single ‘Blue Cheese’ and the under-appreciated Fruits Ov Nature album, the UMC’s poster was also a regular fixture on the lounge room wall on Martin Lawrence’s character on his classic 90’s sit-com, Martin. Their Wild Pitch debut was co-produced by RNS, who would later work on projects for Shyheim and GP-Wu. Hass went on to produce “Apollo Kids” for Ghostface and “Magic Stick” for 50 Cent, while Kool Kim re-invented himself as NYOIL and released the Hood Treason album in 2008.
Robbie: How did you meet Hass G?
Kool Kim: We used to all work at the Statue of Liberty – it was me, U-God, Meth, Deck and Hass – that’s where I met Hass. Me and Meth used to go to public school together, back when he was just Clifford Smith and I was just Kim Sharpton. Me and him used to play trumpet together, and he modeled his trumpeting style behind Clifford Smith, the trumpeter, because our band teacher used to tell him that he reminded him of him – which was pure bullshit. When I heard the real Clifford Smith I was like, ‘Get the fuck outta here!’ Son used to enjoy Clifford The Big Red Dog books. But son was in Stapleton – I wasn’t no hood dude like that, so I wasn’t gonna rock with him in Stapleton. I knew Rakeem (RZA) from back when he used to rock with this dude Forest, who calls himself Ishem now. Rakeem and Forest, they used to have they thing, ‘cos Rakeem ain’t no MC. He wack! He a wack rapper, kid. Capadonna, who used to be Original God at the time, he was ridiculous. Back then, Cappadonna was the Slick Rick of Staten Island.
You were talking about Shaolin and Wu-Tang on those early records too, right?
In New York there’s great love and appreciation for the Asian culture because we grew-up watching kung-fu movies all day! Run Shaw, Master Killer, Golden Arms, Five Deadly Venoms – this is all shit we grew-up watching. So everybody was on it like that, but they [Wu-Tang] was calling theyself, ‘Yo, it’s that Wu-Tang slang’. So we was like, cool, them brothers is comin’, so we’d say stuff like, ‘I flip my style and start to flow Tang Wu’ out of respect, and in our minds they was comin’ soon so we was gonna pave the way for them, and when they got on, they would holler back. Except that wasn’t the case. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that’s pretty much the long and the short of it. It was real unfortunate, ‘cos we thought it was gonna go that way.”
Any good stories about the old days in Staten?
I’ma tell you a funny story about Shyheim and them GP-Wu cats. I used to live on Cedar Street, which is adjacent to Broad Street, which is where most of them cats is from. They walked by, and they knew I was living there so they’d try to tease at us, on some ol’, ‘Wuuuuuu-Tang!’ You know, try to start some shit. They think I would not come out! It’s so funny man, I was watchin’ this interview that G-Dep or one of those dudes was givin’, and he used to box, so he like, ‘Yo, I like when cats try came at me thinkin’ that I’m just some rappin’ dude, and y’all be all loose – ya arms be all loose, ya neck be all loose – riffin’ with me like I’m a herb. You don’t know I box – I’ll knock your ass out!’ That shit is so true, ‘cos as a rapper it’s the same thing. Dude’s be swearin’ I’ma say some ‘Blue Cheese’ shit, man! They be swearin’ that’s what’s gonna come out my mouth! And I’m like, ‘Aight!’ I remember one time I came outside, me, my cousin C-Strangles and his dude Prezzie – who was his rhyming partner at the time – we came outside. I ate a whole chunk outta all three of they asses. They got rocked so bad, that after that mother fuckers was comin’ by just givin’ me love, yo. They got demo’d – all of ‘em! Shyheim is my son, B. He can’t front on me! I remember when he was literally knee-high to me! It’s like, ‘C’mon, stop playin’, pah. You wanna come and battle me? And you ain’t even got no lyrics!’ C’mon, man.
What are your memories of your first single?
‘Invaders of My Fruit Basket’ came out the same time as De La Soul came out, and Red [Alert] would not play the song, ‘cos he didn’t want us to be comp with them. He held us back. A lotta people don’t know that. That’s real. We weren’t on some Daisy Age shit – we weren’t abstract. We just made some weird titles so people got confused. Like ‘Fruits Ov Nature’ – everybody thought that was some fruity shit, right? But the ‘Ov’ was meant to be spelt ‘Uv’ so that it spelled out F.U.N! We was on some 5 Percenter shit right before then, which is what it correlates to as well. Fruit of Islam will fuck you up!”
What was the story behind the ‘Blue Cheese’ video and that messed-up puppet?
I’ll tell you why the ‘Blue Cheese’ video was one of the worst videos in hip-hop ever – because it was so campy and cheesy, they did it so cheap. The budget that they had for it was not the budget that we thought. I made the concept of the video – however, this was supposed to be this phantasmagorical, visual cornucopia of eye-candy that was supposed to blow the minds of the hip-hop world away! It was supposed to be the equivalent of how a Michael Jackson video is, like, ‘Pow!’ There was cereal back in the day called ‘Oh’s Cereal’ and a puppet would come out of the cereal or something and be like [singing], ‘Oh’s Cereal!’ That was the same puppet! They just put a gold tooth on the mouth! I was sitting there thinking, ‘These wack bastards…’”
You received some flack in the press about the more “hardcore” style on the second album. Do you think that was justified?
Admittedly, the Unleashed album was not as honest as the first album. I say that because I honestly would’ve liked to have done a different album. But at the time it was sincerely the album we could deliver – that was the UMC’s in that situation. Two years after the first album, I’d done lost my house, my grandmother done passed, my mother been at war, my brother moved away. I had a child and another on the way. I never drank or smoked, but now that I’ve been under so much duress because my record label won’t pay me – now I’m drinking and smoking and buggin’ out. Now you’re this totally different dude, and you’re goin’ into the studio after two years of experience. You’ve been around the world, you’ve done slept with groupies, you’ve done been disappointed seeing how much sharks this industry is, motherfuckers disrespected you, got jumped, beat, fought, win, loss.And now you’re in the studio making this album, that had nothing to do with the kid you was when you was nineteen at home with no responsibilities. The last things you’re fans heard was, ‘We are the kids from Never, Never Land!’ The next they know, they hear you talkin’ about, ‘Ay yo, I be the rough, rugged!’ ‘Oh, these niggas are fulla shit! They tryin’ to act hard!’ Do you know how many people, right now, walk around with the stigmata of, ‘I got fucked-up by them UMC dudes!’ Because of that very statement. It’s awful, B! You know who told me about this years ago? De La Soul! They goin’ outta town and cats be like, ‘Oh, De La is soft!’ Then they see the dudes is towering infernos and they gotta think twice!”
What happened after that?
We got deaded from Wild Pitch because Stu Fine got beat-up. At the time, Stu was making us do ten songs a week, and we weren’t getting paid anything. Our apartment only had two windows, and both of them were facing each other – that was the most depressing place you could imagine being in. We’re living in squalor, we’re very frustrated and angry – things aren’t going well. We got into the studio, it’s Hass’ birthday, and we’re begging Stu to give our publishing back so we could a publishing deal and get a couple of hundred thousand dollars and get it together. Now the shit that was so hurtful was that me and Hass would’ve did anything for Stu. We were like two pitfighters – no one did a better show than UMC’s! You got on the bill with us, you were getting rocked! KRS? Rocked by us! Naughty? Rocked by us! Black Sheep, Main Source, Greg Nice? Rocked by us! And you know what this cocksucker did? He brought a cake to the studio session! Knowing that we were literally hungry at that very moment – hungry like we hadn’t eaten in a couple of days because we didn’t have no money! Hass kicked the cake over, and our team took a ride with that cat on the elevator when they seen that. There wasn’t any words traded between us and them – I seen the look on them cats face, and I knew what was gonna happen. When he got on that elevator, you could just hear the sounds of the tussle and him just screaming. It was some rough brothers that was in there with that dude – he had to be hospitalized. It was an awful thing, man. I really regret that. And then we got blacklisted and nobody would fuck with us, so we had to lay low for a while.
I’ve never made a dime from selling records. If I had started working in McDonalds –
part time – from the time I signed with Wild Pitch until the time that it was truly over, I would have made way more money than I did. When I got my first #1 plaque I had to hop the train. A number one plaque from Billboard, and I had to hop the train to get home! Unbelievable. We sold over 250,000 records, easy. We’ll never know how many really sold…one time I got a letter from the IRS said we owed them a million dollars. I was like, ‘Word? For what?’”
“One To Grow On”
Silenced the critics who mistook them for a happy rap novelty act. The 12” version is essential.
“Swing It To The Area”
The way the track shifts gears mid-way through from breezy to hardcore is priceless.
“Some Speak Ill Thoughts”
The highlight of their troubled second album – with a beat that’s crack-rock catchy.
“What Up My Wigger Wigger”
A sobering lesson in race relations set to an outstanding break.
“Shout It In The Streets”
A superb showcase of how sharp his vocal technique has remained after all this time.
UMC’s and Organized Konfusion freestyle session:
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