Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,The 80's Files,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
One of the lesser-known albums released through Aaron Fuch‘s Tuff City label was Priority One‘s Total Chaos, which featured Bronx-born MC Ron Delite and Louie Louie doing their thing with claim “Featuring Mixes By The 45 King” scrawled across the cover. As a result of internal conflicts and label pressures, the project was’t everything Ron hoped it would be, as he explained when I talked to him back in 2007.
Robbie: How did you first get into rhyming?
Ron Delite: I have this immense love for hip-hop. I grew-up in the South Bronx, so I’m here at the Mecca of it. I’m here at the beginning, before there’s rap records. I’m in the park jams. The first park jam I went to, I’m watching this guy grab a microphone and he’s putting poetry to music. At the time, I’m nine years old, and I’m at home writing poetry. Being an only child, that was my outlet. Looking at this guy, I said, “I’m doing the same thing he’s doing, only he’s doing it to music”. Went home, and needless to say I broke my mother’s record player, ‘cos now I’m trying to emulate what this guy is doing, scratching records and stuff. My mother was pissed-off of course, but she encouraged me later on. She was always my biggest critic, but I knew if I brought something home and she liked it? I’ve gotta do something else! My mother likes it, so this ain’t gonna pop off!
There was crew that I was a part of called Crush City from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The guy that was the lead rapper of the crew had heard me rapping, and he was like, “I heard you’re nice. Do you want to get down?” So I got down with Crush City. We were going into recording studios and recording tracks. Every other day a new member came in, a new member left. And I saw it as we’re not going anywhere. That’s how I met Louie – Louie was a part of Crush City. Their DJ at the time went by the name of King Tea – he was also a graffiti artist from the Lower East Side – and we started putting these demos together in Tea’s crib, and we felt like, “These are some tight demos! We’re gonna get somewhere with this!” Unfortunately, going back to the whole dust smoking situation, Tea started smoking. We were scheduled to go to his house one night, and the buzz in the projects was, “Tea just killed his mother”. Tea was working out, and he had dumbbells in the house, and supposedly he came home and he asked his mom for some money. She had just gotten her welfare check or something, and she didn’t want to give him any money and he wild out and started bashing her head in with the dumbbell. I couldn’t understand that, this was a dude I was with every day! It really shocked the hell outta me. Smitty, I knew from school. I said, “You know what? We gotta get another DJ”. Me and Smitty were both the class clowns in school, so we kinda clicked. So the crew became me, Louie and Smitty. NaQuan, he used to do the beat-boxing thing. We were supposed to be the original Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, before there was a Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. We felt like our idea got ripped-off. We had the whole story rhyme style, it was great. It was the fun-loving side of hip-hop.
When we signed with Tuff City – that was really strange. I was in school one day and I overheard one of the security guards in the school talking about a recording studio he had been using. Eating my lunch, but at the same time eavesdropping, trying to figure out, “What is this guy talkin’ about?” It just so happened that me and Louie and Smitty had at the time put our little bit of money together and we started using this studio in Astoria, Queens, and it sounded a lot like the recording studio that this guy was talkin’ about. I went from eavesdropping to just jumping into his conversation, and I pretty much asked him, “What recording studio are you using?” We just started talkin’ about the music thing and I’m saying, “Yeah, I’m nice with the microphone. I’m the best thing you ever heard!” The self-brag thing is always pretty important. He was saying, “Do you have a manager?” I said, “No. We just starting, we’re gonna do what we can and see what happens”. He said, “Well, if you bring me your demo tape I can pass it off to my manager. He’s looking for a rap group to manage”. I didn’t have anything to lose. At the time I was doing it because I love hip-hop. So if somebody went and made a thousand copies of it and it circulated? Hey, I’m good being a neighborhood star.
I get a call from this guy the following night, he’s saying, “I like your stuff. Would you like for me to manage you?” Turns out he lived a building away from mine. It was a case where I’d see this guy everyday, “Hey, how ya doin?” Turned out his name is Nelson Cruz. He was a part of a group called Fast Forward, which was a singing group, and at that time they were pretty hot in Miami. The whole freestyle music thing was big there, and they were constantly going back-and forth, performing. When I met up with him, he said that he wasn’t trying to sell me any dreams – which I appreciated. He was just gonna try and get us a deal and then he was done. So I looked at that also as, “OK, this dude is just getting his finders fee and he’s bouncing. He’s bringing somebody to a label just to put some money in his pocket”. That’s cool, too – he’s pretty much a scout. He had the demo tape maybe three days, and he called me the fourth or fifth day and he says, “How would you feel signing with Criminal Records?” I’m running through my mental rolodex and it dawned on me, “OK, that’s the label where the guy looks like he’s breaking in through a window”. Nelson Cruz was signed with MicMac Records – they were also a dance-orientated label. He goes, “Well I also have another label – Tuff City – which is really interested”. I was like, “Yeah, I’ve heard of Tuff City – Spoonie Gee”. I’m thinking all of the rap legends – people from Uptown, from The Bronx. We had a recording contract in like a week, and I’m thinking, “This is too easy!” As my wife always says, “Anything you get real easy, you’re not gonna keep or it’s not worth it”. It turned out to be true.
We met with Tuff City, and believe me when I say we knew nothing of the business end of the music business – we knew nothing. Now Aaron Fuchs – I tried to do some quick research, so I looked at some of the albums, and I noticed that on some of the albums that Tuff City had put out it would have have him executive producer or even listed as producer, and it would say, “Aaron ‘Blood’ Fuchs”. I’m like, “Wow. Where’d the ‘blood’ come from?” Then I was talkin’ with other people, and like, “Yeah, he’s out for blood. He’s gonna milk you dry!” Turns out we didn’t make any money off of anything we did for Tuff City. I tell people all the time that if I was able to have 50 cent more from what we made, I woulda been able to buy a Snicker bar. And during that time, Snicker bars were 50 cent. Here I was, the flyest, brokest MC in my neighborhood. I had the gold chains, I had the Bally shoes, I kept my high-top fade immaculate. Big Daddy Kane used to say, “Who’s flattop rules in ’89?” Mine did! I was spending mad cash, but I was working. I had a job. I was broke, because I was trying to keep-up this image. We did what we did in the studio and they didn’t push anything. There was actually somebody who worked at the office – Dan was his name – he was like an attorney/secretary for Aaron. Dan was overheard by someone else who I knew that worked at Tuff City saying that, “Well, as long as we break even, we’re OK”. Now that’s great for the label, but it does nothing for the artist.
Not really a morale booster!
Right. We signed a recording contract that we thought was a year-long contract, which turned-out to be one year with four or five options to renew. I didn’t understand the whole legal jargon and in fact, we didn’t even have an attorney. We didn’t have a real manager. I have a cousin who at the time was singing and she knew a friend of hers father, who was a jazz musician, and what she would do was she would look over contracts for her dad. So I said, “Hey, we’ve got this contract”. So she said, “Get me a copy and I’ll get it to her and let her make notations”. So I said, “OK, fine. Now we don’t have to pay for a lawyer!” What was really funny though was that when we were sitting up in Tuff City’s office with Aaron Fuchs, he says to me, “You don’t come back to me with at least ten to fifteen different changes on this contract, I’m gonna take you for a sucker”. So I’m like, “Wow! This dude is straight-up!” Yeah, he was straight-up letting me know that there’s gonna be at least a hundred things in that that you should change – instead of just ten to fifteen. Recording contracts, man – anybody can sit down and strike one up, and of course they’re gonna put it in their favor. I think that the way a contract should be structured is that the artist goes to a label with the contact and says, “Here – agree to this and we can put out something”. I understand the record companies are the ones fronting the money, but when a person put their blood, sweat and tears into a project – I think that out-weighs anything monetary. It’s the label that’s taking the risk, but you’re not really taking that much of a risk if you’re not really investing into it. Which I think was our biggest problem – there was no push from the label at all.
We saw the crew expanding, but the problems started to occur when we’d be in the recording studio and say for instance Smitty had an idea for a track. Louie would automatically trash the idea. He felt he was the producer, that was it. Louise was closed-minded, he wanted to run the show. At the time he was a good producer – he became greater later. When it was time to do the album, one of the problems was Louie meeting The 45 King. We were at Airwave Sound recording studio, 42nd Street in New York, and during our session the original Flavor Unit turns up – which was The 45 King, Queen Latifah, Double J, Apache – all of these original members. They were asking, “Is it alright if we sit in on your session?” Mark was really feeling the beats that Louie that was doing, and before you know it he became his right-hand man in a sense. Mark kinda took him under his wing. Around that time there were rumors circulating, “Oh, you don’t wanna mess with Mark. He’s not doin’ too good right now”. I didn’t know where those rumors came from. I guess I can speak on it now – Mark has admitted himself in print – that he was pretty much a dust head and he got blackballed from the industry. But there were worse things that people were doing – why single him out? So all of the stuff that Mark would pass-up on he’d send it Louie’s way. So he started getting a little buzz, and that’s pretty much how Louie got put on to the game.
I noticed that there were other artists on the label and they were doin’ shows. When we signed around that time, Anttex and The Click had also signed to Tuff City. I guess his style was a lot different from what I was accustomed too. It was a little more energetic in the sense of more “fun-loving”. In the beginning, that’s how I was as a rapper – I just wanted to have fun with it, but then I realized that, “Hey, you can change your cadence and you can flip stuff and have people think”. There have been times that I have written rhymes back in the day and it’s about a particular person, and they’re laughing, not even realizing that, “This is about you! You just can’t figure it out!” All the subliminal stuff. When Anttex and The Click came along, they kinda went more towards those guys and were pushing them. We were seeing them having videos, whereas with Priority One, we did a video for the first single that we recorded – “I Can’t Go For That” – but the video never came out! It was never edited, I should say. They hired some college student who was doing an internship, so ours was just, “Here, do these guys” and Tuff City really didn’t have to shell out any doe. It would’ve been a great video for that era. It was done with Super-8, and at that time in the 80′s, everybody had the grainy look. If you remember De La Soul “Potholes In My Lawn” type videos. All I wanted to do was be able to turn-on the TV and see myself on some underground station. I would’ve been happy with that. I would’ve been happy to even hear a Priority One song on the radio! I never got the chance to even do that. Well, college radio, once. And that was due to the fact that I had recorded a song with Freddy Bastone, who was also signed to the label under the name of Corporation of One.
We’d be in the studio and work on stuff, I’d love the track, I’d go home, I’d write to the track and it would be exactly the way I wanted, just to get in the studio two or three days later and the track had mysteriously disappeared. It got “erased” or whatever the case may be. But as time went on, I’d hear these songs that were meant to be on the Priority One album winding-up on Queen Latifah’s album, winding-up on Naughty By Nature’s album, winding-up on Nice & Smooth. But Louie would always say, “Don’t worry, I can make something better!” So a lot of the tracks that we originally had were in a whole different direction. Tuff City said, “Nobody’s going at Rakim! That would be a great thing!” “OK, that’s career suicide, but I’ll appease you. At the same time, I’m gonna play it safe”. So subliminally I sprinkled it out. There’s a line, “I’m not trying to be president”, and some other lines.
I wanted to make it a real hip-hop album, and to me it [the final version] had elements of more danceable stuff. That’s not the direction that I wanted to go in at the time. We could have been a great group, but a lot of that stuff on the album was last-minute. We had time restraints as well, Tuff City is saying, “When is the album gonna be done?” So most of those rhymes are written on the spot. Even though the album came out OK, I don’t feel it was a great album. I feel it was a stepping stone. If there was something as the mix CD circuit that there is now, that would have been our mix CD. That was our little introduction, but the “real” album never materialized. That artwork? I had no input on that whatsoever. It was done by the photographer. I think Aaron Fuchs might’ve felt, “Let’s see if we can get this artwork for cheap! Two for the price of one!” Then at the pressing plant, the labels for side A were put onto side B. I thought that was a cool thing to happen, since it was called “Total Chaos”.
At that time, Priority One was dissolving as a group. As a unit it wasn’t working. As time went on, egos started to play a part. Everybody had a position that they were to play, but then someone wanted to overstep the boundary and say, “I wanna play this position as well”. I looked at us as a group that could go somewhere if we played our positions. All I was concerned with was writing rhymes, making them as tight as I could. I wanted Louie to be concentrated on just making the hottest production he can. And Smitty was there just to do the rubbing on the turntables, and he was good at what he did. Then there was my right-hand man at the time, NaQuan – he was supposed to have been my Phife Dog to my Q-Tip. When I shouted out certain names on certain songs, like JV-1, he was a graffiti artist and it was supposed to have been when we perform he’ll be up there and he’s doin’ graff on stage. That was the concept, but it never really materialized. Actually JV was Louie’s brother, and he had a lot of input too, as far as making suggestions for the album.
“Checkmate You Lose” was one of my favorite tracks you did.
That was one of my favorites. The way it went down on the album cover and the labeling – a lotta the stuff that was co-produced, I wasn’t given credit for. We were young, we didn’t know the business. Things didn’t work out the way they should’ve. “Checkmate You Lose”, that whole concept was my brainchild, in a sense. That was the album Rhythmical Madness, where the last tracks on each side had a featured artist. A lot of things that happened with the Priority One album wasn’t supposed to have happened, so it was like, “OK, this is what I really want to do here”. So I was hoping that it would more or less be my springboard to jump off from there and let the world hear how Ron Delite is supposed to sound. On the “Mellow But Hype” song, when I say at the end, “My girl Elaine”? That’s my wife Elaine. Twenty years later, we’re still together.
Nice. That was a great song.
See! I like you, man. Because you’re favorite songs are my favorite songs. All of the ones that I had time to really craft. It goes back to what I was saying about Corporation of One, Freddie Bastone. When Tuff City hollered at me to do a track with him, “He’s worked with everybody in the business, he wants a rapper on this Hip-House track”. I said, “I’ll listen to the track and see what it sounds like”. Freddie lived in The Bronx, not too far from where I lived. Little, short Italian dude opens the door, and I’m like, “This can’t be the producer!” He had a little tiny set-up, he played this track and I’m like, “This isn’t so bad”. He wanted to have a track that dealt with racial harmony, because at the time Yusef Hawkins had gotten killed and there was a lotta stuff going on in Bensonhurst, which is a predominantly Italian area, and if you’re a shade darker than milk you shouldn’t be in that area! Wth me being African American and him being Italian, what better way to collaborate on something about that?
When the song came out, I was really pleased with it. The Palladium on 14th street New York was still open, and it was called “UK Night”. None of us had been to the UK, and there were a lot of unheard of people performing. I was pissed-off, because this was the only time that I got billed like I did, and they spelled my name “Rhonda Delite”. They’re expecting some big titty chick to be up on the stage, shaking her ass, and that’s not what they get! I had stacks and stacks of flyers, and I went through maybe seven or eight different pens crossing out the “H” and the “A”! When it was time for us to perform, we’re making our way towards the stage and as I’m walking through the crowd I see this guy that worked with me, back in the day, at McDonalds. I stop, and I’m like, “Yo, don’t I know you?” He’s like, “Nah, you don’t know me”. I’m like, “We worked at McDonalds!” He’s like, “Nah man, I never worked at McDonalds!” Then I realized he’s there with this chick and he doesn’t want the chick to know. Alright, fine. I jumped on stage in a Gucci suit, the crowd went wild, they loved the song. It was a great night. Getting off the stage, I see this guy and he goes, “Yeah! Yeah! I remember you!” I’m like, “You remember me from where?” He goes, “McDonalds! We worked at McDonalds! I was on the fires and you was making burgers!” So I said to him, just like he said to me, “I never worked at McDonalds! You got me twisted with somebody else,” and I walked away.
Did you know that Tuff City have re-issued the Priority One album?
Really? I didn’t even know they did that! Wow. Maybe I can get a copy for myself! [laughs] He did mention that he wanted to re-release it, but I’m not gonna see anything from it. Like I said, the contract was not in our favor!
Priority One – “I Can’t Go For That”
Priority One – “It’s Groovy”
Priority One – “This Stage Is My Stage”
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