Filed under: Features,Interviews,Juice Crew All-Stars,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
MC Craig G started his recording career back in 1985 with “Shout” on Lawrence Goodman‘s Philadelphia-based Pop Art label in 1985, before “Droppin’ Science” for Marley Marl and releasing two solo albums on Atlantic before he took the independent route. Despite being initially known for his freestyle skills, Craig has since refined his song-writing abilities and dropped his latest project at the end of last year. We talk about Queensbridge, the Juice Crew, working with Marley Marl and his involvement with 8 Mile.
Robbie: What sparked you to start rhyming?
Craig G: My older brother was in a neighborhood rap group, they were called the High-Fidelity Crew. They did a party for my sister – this was in Queensbridge – and they had left the equipment there overnight, and decided to bring it back later the next day. So I just started messing with the turntables and acting like I was an MC. I just liked how it felt and from there I just started practicing and practicing, but I didn’t even write my first rhyme until my first record. I used to freestyle everywhere. I was 8 or 9 nine years old when this happened.
What was the first park jam you went to?
I had to be home by the time it was dark, so I was there but I didn’t get to see the real live action. The ill MC’s in the neighborhood wouldn’t even crack the mic until nine o’clock. I used to get a little charity rhyme during the day, but nobody really cared, they were still getting it ready. The party jumped-off about an hour before the shooting started. That was all you needed to know! [laughs] If they started shooting, you was like, “They was rocking right before then! Damn, man!” Just hood shit.
How did you get down with the Super Kids?
I wasn’t a member of them, that was Trag. The weird thing is me and Blaq Poet were in a rap group together before any of us made a record. We used to just go around the neighborhood, battling people. I don’t remember the name we were calling ourselves, it’s the funniest thing. I’ve gotta call him up and ask him.
How would you decide who to battle back then?
In Queensbridge, it was pretty much a travelling news thing. You knew who the MC’s were and who weren’t. Whether it was a school or just walking around the neighborhood, you’d just get into little battles. They had this talent show, and first me and Poet were gonna be in this talent show rapping, and I was already in a breakdance crew – I used to pop-lock – and we were doing the talent show, and I was the worst guy in the crew so they kinda put me out of the crew before the show started! So I rapped at the talent show and I won, which is when it all started to make sense that I wanted to do it for real.
How did you link up with Marley Marl?
Marley lived in my building in Queensbridge – I lived on the 2nd floor, he lived on the 6th floor. I started checking the times when I know he’d leave, and he never took the elevator, he would always take the steps, so I would just made sure when he came down the steps I was in the hallway, rapping. After bugging him for I don’t know how much time, he was like, “Yo, we got an idea for a song. Come to the studio”. That was the idea for “Shout Rap”. I had to have MC Shan help me write the first verse, cos I knew how to rhyme well, but I didn’t know how to structure songs. I didn’t count bars – I was twelve years-old! For me, I didn’t realise the impact until I heard it on the radio.
Did you get a good response to those two Pop Art singles?
“Shout Rap” got a great response. Every time they played the original on urban stations they would mix it with mine, so it was on radio all day long. I didn’t receive much money for the song, but it wasn’t about that then for me, it was about being on the radio. The second song? I don’t think did as well. But I’m a kid, and the people from the label are like, “Well, Transformers are popular so let’s come up with something on the strength of that”. But the rhyme had nothing to do with Transformers! [laughs] I’m 13, 14 years-old at this point, I didn’t know know what the hell I was doing yet!
Were you able to perform shows since you were so young?
My mother would sometimes let me go on the weekend if my brother went with me. My moms was a nursery school teacher, so it was not gonna get in the way of school.
What happened between then and the In Control album?
There was “Juice Crew All-Stars”, the single, which was two years later. But before that time there wasn’t nothing. I was in school. There wasn’t even an “In Control” when we were working on some of these songs that wound-up on there. “Duck Alert” just happened cos I used to work at the radio station, answering the phones. “Duck Alert” happened from just a freestyle on the air. Marley was playing the Antoinette record and started scratching it up – that part where she says “Duck alert, the alarm” – and we was freestyling and Marley said, “We’ve gotta make a record of that”, and then it turned into that, that Monday. I was pledging allegiance to who I worked with. Red Alert is one of the nicest guys I know in the music industry! I was just standing up for my crew. It wasn’t really nothing personal, but then again, back then, none of it really was.
Did anyone from Red’s crew ever respond?
My name was never mentioned in any of those joints, which was pretty good. Maybe they all knew I was young?
What was the story with MC Glamorous from “Juice Crew All-Stars”?
That was Mr. Magic’s girlfriend, or one of the girl’s he was seeing at that moment. No disrespect to her, but we didn’t really know her like that. Everybody else was from the neighborhood, or would be around the neighborhood, so we all knew each other.
She even got her own set at the Juice Crew show at the Apollo in ‘88.
That was Magic. They wanted me to just do “The Symphony”, and I remember me and Marley going, “Nah, we’re not gonna do that, yo!”, because “Droppin’ Science” was an extra on ‘BLS, which wasn’t fully added yet but it played all the time, so we knew that song was hot already. So me and Marley went in the backstage of the Apollo and were like, “After Ace does “The Symphony”, let’s just go into it”. So we did it without telling them and the response was crazy. It was a pecking order in the Juice Crew back then. I may have done more than some of the people, but I was one of the youngest, so they were trying to make me earn my shine.
So the songs that you appeared on for Marley’s album were all selected from random sessions?
For as long as my relationship with working with Marley was – except for my first ever album on Atlantic – we did not ever purposely go to record music for a place for it to wind up. We would just do music. When I did the first album, The Kingpin, we recorded that in two weeks. I am ashamed of that album! Very much so. It was a rush. Honestly, we did not put our best foot forward.
“Dopest Duo” and “Take The Bait” were great though.
“Take The Bait” wasn’t on it, that was a b-side. That actually wound-up on my second album. I actually named my second album Now, That’s More Like It. It was a much more focused effort. We worked really hard on that album, cos it felt like a second chance.
What set off those songs about MC Shan that you had on the second album?
It all started cos they had to ask me about the Juice Crew, and at that time when they asked me the Juice Crew was pretty much over. Kane wasn’t rockin’ with it, Biz, none of ‘em. So I was honest, I told ‘em. So later in the interview with Shan, they told him and he said something about I’m a “son”. It was a magazine interview. At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at me for something someone else [said]. It’s the same thing as “The Symphony” story – you can’t get mad at Ace for something Marley told him. Even that wasn’t personal. At the end of the day, Shan’s still like my brother. Brother’s fight, they get older, they get over it. It was one of those situations.
What can you tell me about “Turn This House Into A Home”?
I stand by that song, because at one point, I liked House music, and that song was almost a year and a half old by the time it came out. Long story short – Marley was on the Rap Attack, and they would go off the air at midnight, and the House DJ would come in. He was Merlin Bob, who just happened to be the VP of Atlantic. “Turn This House Into A Home” was already a hit before it was even out, cos Marley used to have this House mix at noon, so he used to play it all the time and he gave it to all the DJ’s, so I got signed on the strength of that song. They like, “Yo, we gotta do the video to this!”. Mind you, I’m 17 and they just gave me $40,000. I’m like, “Aight”. But by the time that record was actually out for commercial release, I wasn’t as much of a fan of House music as I was when I first made it, but they were like, “We gotta do a couple more!” So there wound-up being two more club tracks on the album. I was disgusted by that album.
What about “Live and Direct From The House Of Hits”?
We’d be up at Marley’s crib, and Marley lived away from the city, so when you went, you were there for a few days. Trag was from my block also. A lot of that stuff was done organically, we didn’t try to do stuff, it was just done. “Alright, we here – let’s rock!” Marley’s favorite saying in the studio was, “What you got? What you got? What you got?”. He’d play a beat – “What you got?”. With “Dropping Science”, he played me the beat and I was like, “Oh my god!” He was like, “Yo, I’ma give you a chance at writing to it. If not, I’ma give it to Biz”.
What was the situation after Marley left Cold Chillin’?
I was never directly signed to Cold Chillin’.
But he stopped working with the rest of the Juice Crew apart from you and Trag, right?
It was more of a mutual thing. Some of them would come with records to sample, to give Marley, so it was more or less them wanting more money because they felt like they produced it, so a lot of them started getting into producing themselves. But for all the drama, people just grow-up and go in different directions. But at the end of the day, it’s family.
How did you develop your song-writing style after so long as a freestyler?
Once the independent scene came into play, maybe a little bit after the battle with Supernatural, and there were all of these, “Guys that freestyle can’t make a song”. I’m stubborn, and if you tell me I can’t do something, I’mma crack the code, so it was me trying to come up with different rhyme schemes and structure songs. What happened is, I like it better than freestyling! I love it. For me, it’s an ill blessing to hear an ill story and then try to top it. There are people that still stick me with that [freestyle] stigma, and I feel that it’s unjust. But whatever, you can’t please everybody!
Supernatural still has that stigma to this day.
I’ve always said – and I’m not trying to throw shade to him – after the battle with us, he was still signed! They didn’t drop him. He put out music! Regardless of if it was the song’s fault or the label’s fault, if that song was a hit? Nobody would have remembered that battle. They used to always say, “It was unfair! You killed his career!” I’m like, “Nah, man! I was the one that was unsigned!” [laughs]
Can you tell me about the Sure-Shot single?
That’s when I started learning that I could be me, I can just take the experiences I’ve learned and do what I do. Sure, it’s more legwork and it’s not as – but it’s still profiltable. Once I learned that, I was off and running.
A nice change after the frustrations of Atlantic?
The situation at Atlantic? God bless ‘em, they gave me two albums! But it was at a time before street teams, and the promotion schemes were different. I believe there were eight of us signed to Atlantic, and two people working all these albums. One of them lived in another state and came to the office twice a week, it was ridiculous. It was also a situation where I was in a production deal, I wasn’t signed to Atlantic. I didn’t understand that then, and as much as I thought my complaints were being heard? They weren’t heard. [laughs] They were looking at me like, “Where the hell is Marley at? You’re not signed to us”.
You also did that album with Will Pack?
Silent Majority? Yeah, that’s my brother, man. We’ve been to Africa and a bunch of places, he was on the road with me. It was dope, cos I got to be a way more political. We didn’t really get a proper mastering done, plus it was a small label, but that’s going to be a rarity later on in life.
Then you reunited with Marley for another album.
Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop. That was something that didn’t start out as an album. We would just be at the crib recording, and when you look up, there’s seven or eight songs done and you’re like, “Yo!” I focused on this new latest project way more, I knew it had to be more cohesive. The next album I’m working on now is a concept album. It’s frazzling the hell out of me, but I’m getting there.
What was your involvement in the 8 Mile film?
I actually wrote a lot of the opponents lyrics. I wrote 80% of Xzibit’s verse. I’m on the DVD in the bonus footage, man. I respect the fact that they hand-picked me to do that, but I don’t go around like, “Hey! Eminem respects me!”. It’s not that serious. It’s more the fact that I was actually at The Shelter – the club the movie was based on – and I battled a bunch of guys there, in Detroit. I happened to walk up in there by accident. I did a show in Miami, then we drove to Detroit but the show got cancelled. So me and Will Pack are in the hotel with a gang of weed that I got from Florida, so we say, “Yo, let’s go get a Phillie”. This is the Phillie days, 90-something. We walk to the gas station, we get some Phillies, and every time this door opens, we’re hearing music playing. It’s like warehouses, so I’m like, “What the-?” So we follow the music and walk into the club, and it’s The Shelter. Me and Proof battled and a bunch of other MC’s. That’s how me and Proof – rest the dead – became real good friends. So maybe that had something to do with it, and the fact that I met Em and Paul and ‘em way before any of the hub-bub happened, when Em was promoting Infinite. I was actually the judge at the Rap Olympics where he was at that battle. I also did the character Dangerous’ verse in Get Rich Or Die Trying.
Ramblings Of An Angry Old Man features an album cover that sums up the way a lot of rap fans over 30 feel about some of the younger generation.
It was more or less to spark the conversation. When you get into the album, it’s really more lesson than pointing the finger. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that way! I’m like, “Why are the clothes getting so tight but we can still see your drawers? What the hell’s going on?”
You mentioned that felt you didn’t get any love from the big blog sites for that album.
Craig G isn’t big news, but as opposed to me looking at blogs and sites, sometimes I forget that the people like the album. Shit, iTunes named it one of the best of 2012 in America, France, UK and Israel. So somebody’s listening! I’m at peace with the fact that some of the stuff that I’m saying now, people might not get it for a few years.
What is it about Queensbridge that sets it apart?
It’s its own city. It’s six blocks, 96 buildings, six floors in each building and four or five apartments on each floor. People would either visit from outta town, or go outta town and come back. We had our own thing going on. We didn’t travel outside of Queensbridge much, cos we had everything we needed there. Every borough in New York has it’s own thing, but when you’re outta town, all New Yorker’s stick together! [laughs] New York is a whole different lifestyle. There’s a bunch of unwritten codes.
But that didn’t stop dudes from different neighborhoods having disagreements, did it?
All the time! Even to this day it happens, but that happens in every state. North Memphis don’t like East Memphis and that’s just the world we live in! There’s a bunch of Israel and Palastine stuff going on in every city in America, if you wanna keep it a hunned. “Nah man, there’s a trade embargo on this block, you can’t hustle over here”. Just learn to keep your head up and eyes open, and skip past that and keep it movin’. Try not to catch a stray to the noodle.
When you say you had everything, did you have a record store?
Yeah, Top Ten Records! Everything you needed in Queensbridge was there. Jewellery store, a supermarket, everything. We had a big park by Queensbridge, and a lot of the big DJ’s wanted to play at that park or the Reece Center. I heard stories of Grandmaster Theodore cutting with hand-cuffs in Reece Center, right in Queensbridge.
Which three tracks would you play someone who had never heard of Craig G?
“Dropping Science”, “Ready Set Begin” and “Take The Bait”.
MC Craig G – “Shout”
Marley Marl feat. Craig G – “Droppin’ Science”
Craig G – “Take The Bait”
Craig G – “Word Association” (Remix)
Intelligent Hoodlum feat. Craig G – “Live And Direct From The House of Hits”
Craig G – “Ready Set Begin”
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