Filed under: Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,The 90's Files,Uptown Kicking It
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
MF Grimm has survived many trials and tribulations during his life and career, having barley survived multiple gunshot wounds which left him in a wheelchair for the past twenty years, missing out on his spot on “Live At The BBQ” after a run-in with a taxi driver and having the master reels of his first album stolen from a recording studio. Returning to music after an extended hiatus, Grimm spoke to me about his new project Good Morning Vietnam, developing his rhyme style, rolling with King Sun, forging his reputation as a serious battle MC in his younger days and the importance of the New Music Seminar Battle For World Supremacy.
Robbie: It must be exciting to release some new music.
MF Grimm: This time around with Drasar Monumental, I feel like I’m just starting my career now, working with him. I’ve never been able to work hands-on with a producer like I’m working with him. It’s more than music, we get along like brothers. It’s not about profit margin, it’s about making quality songs and music. I have so much to learn that it’s fun to be around him, we’re both students of the game. Every song we did was created on the spot, was written that same day.
What else are you doing these days?
I’m currently the president of a multi-media company called Arch Enemy Entertainment. We work with USA Today, which goes out to 11.9 million people, so I’m in film and television. I’m responsible for a lot of writers, illustrators and animators. Music is something which I can only do when I make time for it. I started working with them in 2008 in marketing, and I made president in 2011.
What is it about The Bronx that separates it from other places?
I was born in The Bronx, but I grew up in Manhattan. Besides Doug E. Fresh, I don’t know if you can really name too many MC’s from Manhattan, so I always felt like I had something to prove. In The Bronx, it’s the vibration. That’s where it’s from, so that’s the nucleus. It’s the purest form. I grew-up in Rocksteady Park.
Do you remember the first show you went to?
All I remember is street jams. A party was anywhere you could find a light-pole and open it up and plug up your radio to, or your turntables. I used to be at that when I was a kid with my sisters, they were older than me. I don’t remember the first shows, the only ones that come to mind right now are KRS at Union Square. Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff, I remember those clearly.
Who were some of the DJ’s out there?
DJ Louie Loo was one of them. He spelt his name with two o’s.
The guy who was down with T La Rock?
I don’t know if he worked with T La Rock. He worked with King Sun though. He’s influenced people like Kid Capri and things of that nature, he’s close to Zulu. It was breaking and laying beats, mostly. Wasn’t too many MC’s running around, that’s why I wanted to be an MC. I grew-up around the best breakdancers, I grew-up around the best graffiti artists. Louie Loo was the best DJ, so the one element that I saw there was room for was being an MC.
What put that bug in your ear to make you start rhyming?
My mother and my sisters were alway big into music. My mom used to play music in the house like everyone else. When I heard “Rapper’s Delight” and things of that nature, it was running so freely in my house, it felt like I was destined to do it. To a degree, I feel like I was born to do it, ‘cos I was born in The Bronx. That’s the birthplace of hip-hop and I feel like the vibration of hip-hop there is so strong that it entered me through my birth. It’s hard to think of anything I wanted to do before that.
Do you remember writing your first rhyme?
My time on Sesame Street [Grimm appeared on the TV show as a child], I would rhyme about things I saw, things in the street. Eventually, I learned how to rhyme by reading Edgar Allan Poe. Also I listened to John Coltrane. I think that’s why my style is so “off” at times. I have my own timing, I do that on purpose.
What was the next step?
In high school I used to be around Lord Finesse, we went to school together. He was getting ready for the Battle for World Supremacy, there was a lot of things Finesse was already ahead of, so I watched Finesse go through everything before I really stepped into the arena in that sense. I was too busy being bad, which Finesse will tell ya! I was very bad. After a while, it was like, “It’s time”. King Sun was also very influential on my career, and Kool G Rap.
You were called Build and Destroy at the time?
That was a name given to me by King Sun, that was my first name. When I came out west, they would call me Grimm Reaper ‘cos I would just go and search for MC’s and make ‘em battle. If you lost, you couldn’t even use your name no more. That’s all I did, that’s what I thought life was all about when I first started.
What can you tell me about King Sun?
It was just fun. He was one of the people that showed me that hip-hop was more than just being on the block. You can actually make a living off of it. I watched him create his albums, I watched him do shows, I went around with him, flew different places. He was exactly how he portrayed himself in his music. He’s 6‘ 8”, he’s a real big guy, and he spoke his mind. Whoever he had to confront, he would confront.
During your battling days, what was your main motivation?
I just wanted to destroy people. It was like boxing or mixed martial arts, I just wanted to annihilate the person.
Were you battling for money at all?
We used to battle people for money – thousands of dollars, twenty thousand dollars. It wouldn’t matter.
Twenty thousand dollars? That’s serious.
We were in the street, so it was different. There was one battle that never materialised, I kinda wish it did, that was with Jay-Z. That would of been nice. Dash wanted me to go to Roc-A-Fella, I like Dash. I didn’t battle Jay ‘cos I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be on Roc-A-Fella. I was trying to bring G Rap to Roc-A-Fella, so I left that alone. I was ghostwriting for this girl for Roc-A-Fella, her name is Roughness. I was helping her, she wrote her own stuff too.
Have you done much ghostwriting?
At that time I used to always do it, cos I didn’t really care. It was cool. I mostly did it for the cash. I did that for Epic Records, Geffen Records, Sony.
Anyone else you battled?
Have you seen the movie Ip Man? He was a grandmaster, and other people who were grandmaster’s and teachers, and they all had their own dojo’s, they would come and challenge him at his house. He would try to convince them not to, and they would go in the room and fight. After he beat them, he would leave it in that room. After they walked out that door, the only people that knew that that he defeated them was the person he defeated. For me it’s the same way. I whipped a lot of peoples asses, and unless they talk about it I don’t talk about it. I battled several people. You can ask Wu-Tang about me, ask KRS about me. Everyone knows me when it comes to battling.
I only lost one battle, and that was against Supernatural in the Battle for World Supremacy, 1993. Puffy was the judge, so what does that really tell you? You might as well have got someone from a bakery to be the judge. Clark Kent changed the rules – it was supposed to be two rounds of 90 seconds. but it was switched to one round of 60 seconds. “Grimm Reaper, you go first”. I was like, “Woah!’ It was a no-win situation to a degree, ‘cos it left me no room to respond to what he had to say. So he won. Clark Kent was his A&R over at East/West.
The classic Percee-P vs. Lord Finesse battle was an interesting example of a complex MC vs. a punchline MC.
When you’re battling against someone that’s funny, there’s no way you can win. no matter how dope your lyrics are. It’s like a politician debating against a comedian. Laughter will always win. I learned that too with Supernatural.
Were you there the year that Freshco & Miz won?
I was there for that! I was there for just about all of those battles. If you were an up and coming MC, there was no way you could not be in the Battle For World Supremacy and talk about you’ve got an album coming out. People would not take you seriously! You had to be in that. There was one cat that went against Masta Ace, his name was Bango. Masta Ace was the favorite, but he gave it Masta Ace that year! Bango was a problem back then.
He got onto the Rhyme Syndicate album after that.
Ice [T] used to be there, I know Ice through Sun. Bango and Finesse both went to Rhyme Syndicate then. You know your stuff if you know about Bango! Lord Finesse battled Mikey D and Lord Finesse won. I used to be with DJ Alladin all the time too, we were really tight. Between him and my brother – rest in peace – Roc Raida, they were the two greatest DJ’s I’ve been around, in terms of intensity. I knew Raida since I was around 17, to sit at his house and be the first person to watch him make all these things that people all around the world are now aware of, I feel very blessed. I saw all those things before anyone.
Part 2 covers missing the “Live At The BBQ” session, his recovery process and the lost Grimm song with B-1 and Freddie Foxxx over a Lord Finesse beat.
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