Filed under: Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Philly
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Concluding my sit-down with Shecky Green (you can read Part 1 here), he explains catering to an expanding readership, getting Illmatic six months before the rest of world, the Game Recordings era and working the party scene in Las Vegas.
Robbie: As you began to expand, you were able to start putting on shows like The Source Tour, right?
Shecky Green: We did the tour and we had some legendary shows in New York. One of them was Cypress Hill when they were red hot – “…Kill A Man” had just come out and they were the biggest record in New York. We did a show that was so insane – there were people jumping off the fuckin’ ceiling. It was nuts! The walls were coming down! Then we did an incredible show with the Hit Squad, at this spot on the West Side Highway. It was the entire Hit Squad – EPMD, Redman, K-Solo, Das-EFX and many more guests. Every single incredible song they ever created was performed that night.
How did you decide who to put on the cover? Was it based on their buzz or whoever your staff thought was interesting at the time?
It really was the biggest decision an editorial staff can make about that month’s issue. There’s a lot of consideration about the timing of it. If we knew that a big album by a certain artist was coming out, we’d time the cover to appear on the stands when that album was actually out, or as close as we could, ‘cos you’d know if someone bought the Ice Cube album and they see his face, they’re going to want to pick it up and read about the guy that they’re listening to right now. In the beginning we had such freedom, ‘cos we knew whoever we were putting on the cover was the hottest right then. We just liked what we liked. But as we got bigger we had to consider the marketplace. One of the issues we struggled with – being very East Coast sensibility in the beginning – was the issue of embracing all of hip-hop. The West Coast, Texas, down South, Chicago, etc. We had to face that issue very early on, alongside Yo! MTV Raps. They were facing the same issue, they had to broaden the scope of their programming to be the whole country, even though we were coming from a very New York mindset.
So as not to alienate potential readers?
Exactly. At that time, there was a big difference between the way that hip-hop from New York sounded and hip-hop everywhere sounded. Not only that, there wasn’t really a national steam. Records would get hot in a local market but would it never penetrate to another market. It would just stay in one region. Someone like Too $hort, for example, was super popular but people in New York had never heard a single record. DJ Quik, super-fuckin’ hot in LA, people in New York were like, “Who is this jheri curl guy?” Too $hort was one of the ones that I personally had to open my mind and say, “OK, it doesn’t sound like something I like, but I’m going to listen to it and try to understand it because it’s popular.” I eventually ended-up liking a few Too $hort records. He made some big records and I’m a fan of his. We were on the front lines of this whole East/West, different sounds and everyone jockying for position and trying to figure out who’s on top and how do we all fit in here. How do you make everyone happy? If we put someone like Scarface on the cover, people in New York would be like, “What are you doing?” It would be a crisis! People at that time were so passionate about whatever their style of hip-hop was, especially East Coast, New York-centric hip-hop. It was like, “This is hip-hop! And nothing else!” I have to admit I was part of that in the beginning, I had that mindset. We did our best to reflect the whole country. We were learning ourselves about all these other markets and all these other scenes. We were on the front-line of figuring out that hip-hop is thirty different things at one time, and back then, that idea wasn’t clear.
Is that why you had “the Regional Reports” section?
We were always conscious of those other markets, so made an effort to capture that when we were focusing on being more of a trade magazine. But when we shifted to being a consumer magazine it became clear that we had to give up on the Regional Reports, because it became too much of a platform for the guy doing it to promote his own shit. [laughs] There were people promoting their own parties and artists. It was too much to try and police all that. We don’t really know the scene so we’re trusting this guy to give us the truth.
I imagine the TLC cover must have been polarizing for your readers?
That was a weird cover for several reasons. First of all, the fact that we put TLC on the cover. That was the first time that we did anything like that – someone who wasn’t a rapper. That was a big decision and we discussed it a lot. The other part that’s weird, is that when the issue came back from the printer, their skin is green! Something got screwed-up, so not only did we have three R&B girls on the cover – in our defence, they went on to become one the biggest groups of all time – they looked green! It was horrible. That’s the kind of issue I want to sweep under the carpet.
The issue on Illmatic was amazing. How did that come about?
That was one of my favorite times of my Source era, having the good luck to have Nas’ album, Illmatic, six months before it was on the street. I went to Philly to meet Chris Schwartz, who had Ruffhouse Records. At the time, he was really big with Fu-Gees and Kriss Kross. They were monsterous. Nas had been signed to Columbia, so I think they made the decision to put the record on Ruffhouse even though Chris Schwartz had nothing to do with the record. At that time, all we had heard was “Halftime” and “Live At The BBQ,” and that’s it. We were like, “This guy is phenomenal”. We knew that there was an album being worked on, we knew there were big producers working on it, but we hadn’t heard anything, we were fiending to hear it. So I go to Philly with the intention of hearing whatever I can hear, and also talking some other business. So I walk into the room, he has a very messy desk, there are coffee cups everywhere and piles of paper. We have our meeting, and then I say, “By the way, I was wondering if you have any Nas?” He was like, “Nas? You like him?” He looks at me like he was surprised. I was like, “Yeah, Nas! We’re loving his shit”. So he flips through some papers and some coffee cups and he comes up with a cassette. He’s like, “Here, you can listen to this. You can have it!” I was like, “Oh great, thanks man!” What he just handed me was the entire Illmatic album. A raw mix. A different mix with some songs that sound different – especially “Represent”, has a different beat – but it’s the entire Illmatic album. So I put it in my bag, get back on the train to New York and I put in my Walkman and what I hear is probably the greatest hip-hop album of all time. It’s one of them, for sure. It’s the perfect album. It’s short, and every single song is incredible. Especially “One Love”, that was the song that blew me away the most. We were lucky to have that [early copy]. That gave us time to consume it and digest it and prepare for when the time was right, to do it the right way. We debated the rating and it ended up getting five [mics].
The “Record Report” ratings must have been a pain in the ass.
[laughs] We could spend weeks working on something, and all they cared about was who’s on the cover, and what rating did it get. Nothing else seemed to penetrate. We tried our best to be accurate, it was a group decision.
There was an article is one of the later issues that was making fun of the Soul Assassins crew, and they got pretty upset about it.
Some articles were written that I did not agree with and that in particular was the one. I was not in New York when they happened, and I was furiously angry, because they did not represent the magazines viewpoint. I thought it was a horrible use of the power that we had. I did not like it all. I allowed a couple of issues to happen when I was not in New York, and that got in there. That was a low point, definitely.
What about when Rodney-O and Joe Cooley attacked the magazine on the Fuck New York album?
Did they? Public Enemy made a video that depicted The Source. Did you see that?
No. Was it negative?
No one even saw it for some reason. They were angry about something James Bernard had written, and they made a whole video were they trying to clown The Source. They had a character playing me, and a character playing James, and they depicted James as a sell-out black guy, which he completely was not. He was writing very provocative things that came close to a line of what is OK to say and what is not. At that time, Public Enemy was making shitty music and some other things were happening that he didn’t like. He talked about it, and Chuck didn’t like what he said. I guess they were both kinda in the wrong.
Did you have people coming at you when you were out and about?
Things would happen, but luckily it was nothing too serious. There would always be disgruntled artists, disgruntled record label people, disgruntled managers. But then sometimes they were super-happy. Over time, we handled ourselves the right way and we were able to forge ahead and do our thing.
The themed issues were interesting, like the “Crack” series.
That was something James Bernard and Reggie Dennis were rallying around, and I thought it was a cool idea. It was current in the news, so we approached it from a straight-up hip-hop point of view. What the people wanted to see, including the recipe for making crack!
Can you break down what you’ve been up to since you left The Source?
My first impulse was to do a magazine that was a little bit more of an older audience. Back then, The Source had a very young audience, a lot of kids that were 12 and 13 years old, and I had some ideas about moving in an older direction. Around the same time, I was also caught-up in an emerging underground scene that revolved around vinyl, in New York. We’re talking about the mid to late 90’s. Those things kinda converged, and that’s what created Game Recordings and Hip-Hop Honeys, the DVD series.
Were you based in Las Vegas then?
It was half and half. I officially moved to Vegas in 2003. I was living in New York when the music was coming out, when I moved into the DVD era was when I moved to Vegas, ‘cos it was a better place to run that business. For a minute, I was a mini Girls Gone Wild. We had a 24-hour call center in the Philippines, we had an early website, we had cell phone content. We had a nice run through-out the early 2000’s to 2007.
What was the inspiration for those great Game record covers?
A lot of British magazines that were sexy, pushing the envelope a lot more than magazines in America. That was before Maxim launched here. I had both businesses merged together, that was the identity of the label.
How about the Hip-Hop Honeys DVD’s?
Hugh Hefner is a huge hero of mine. All of us, at some point, want to be Hugh Hefner – at least I did! Anything like this, he is the inspiration. Playboy After Dark, I loved that shit.
Can you explain what you do in Las Vegas these days?
In Vegas, there was a time when DJ AM was the king and really doing his thing here. That was really my entree into working clubs out here and booking DJ’s, was AM, Mark Ronson, Stretch Armstrong, DJ Premier, people like that. This is going back to 2004, 2005. Then as the scene evolves, AM becomes the king and is doing these huge shows here, and the whole city turns into AM style, “open format”/”mash-up”, and that ruled the city for several years. You can almost say that with the passing of DJ AM, that era kinda passed, and now it’s electronic music. So the biggest name electronic DJ’s come here and make incredible amounts of money. We have these huge parties that have up to of 10,000 people coming through any given night. It’s very big business here. It’s been interesting to be part of that and watch it evolve. Now we’re at the center of a different genre of music that’s really exploding here, in America and Vegas in particular.
What was a DJ AM set like?
He was the best at playing every genre. It was no limits. It was a lotta rock, back in the beginning, a lot of hip-hop, dance music, 60’s music, R&B, weird electronic music of the time. It was all over the map, all blended seamlessly with a lot of cutting, a lot of wordplay. He was very active behind the turntables. He was the hardest working DJ you’ve ever seen. That style was copied and became the norm for several years. Now we have a new era. These huge electronic DJ’s, mostly European, are ruling the scene right now. And yes, my brother DJ Mighty Mi, of the the High and Mighty, of Smut Peddlers, is here with me in the middle of it, doing his thing. I also oversee a Video DJ crew called ScreenWerks. We create a lot of music-driven original video production, that’s where our creative direction is flowing.
Do you follow much current rap?
I haven’t been blown away in a long time, but I’m open-minded.
It’s tough to compare to the excitement of 1988 or 1994.
That’s what I’m saying. When those are the classics for you, it’s hard to fall in love with another rapper, because you hold them up to the highest standards. That being said, there are some young cats I like who are heating up. Speaking of classics, are you a Chill Rob G fan?
I am indeed. He’s one of the best to ever do it.
That’s awesome that you said that, I agree with you. He is a slept-on genius.
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