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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Continuing my talk with Spyder-D, we discuss his relationship with Sparky-D, the saga of Kool Moe Dee ripping-off his song, record label headaches and why Run won’t talk to him anymore.
Robbie: Was the Tuff City compilation of your early work an authorized release?
Spyder-D: I wouldn’t be surprised if Tuff City didn’t have something to do with the bootlegging of “Big Apple Rappin’”, ‘cos I didn’t technically give the right to do “Big Apple Rappin’”, before I found out they were already planning on doing it, so I believe they’d been in contact with the dude. It was somewhat authorized. Aaron Fuchs – ha and I have had a love/hate relationship for a long time. Aaron is a guy who’s love for hip-hop and his understanding of it, I recognized early on. He was a pioneer in that sense. He understood where hip-hop was going and that it was here to stay a long time before a lot of other people did, and I always loved that about him. But he’s as crooked as lightening bolt!
What can you tell me about Sparky-D? Was she your girlfriend at the time or was it just a working relationship?
Kurtis Blow was helping put together the soundtrack to Penitentiary 3, with Leon Isaac Kennedy. Kurtis had mention that he wanted to put a female group on it, and he wanted me to keep my ears to the streets and see what’s happening. So I put the word out and this producer, Rob, from Brownvsille, Brooklyn and he knew about this group called The Playgirls. Sparky and City Slim and Moe-Ski, they came to Power Play studios one night when I was recording, to meet me. They did their thing in front of me, live, and I said, “Oh! These girls are tight!”. I told the girls I wanted to sign them, and I wasn’t really sure what Kurt was doing, but I was not going to give Kurt these girls. Kurt and I were friends, but we were rivals as well. Nobody had offered me any money for the soundtrack, so I signed the girls and brought them into the studio. We did “Our Picture of a Man”, which was a routine that they used to do live. Tony McLachlan was a keyboardist for the group Secret Weapon – “Must Be The Music”, Prelude Records. It was a huge hit. Davey DMX introduced me to Tony, so Tony became my keyboardist, ‘cos at this stage I’m still not playing anything myself. Sparky and I exchanged numbers the night I met. Her and City Slim both gave me their phone numbers, and that caused a little dissention in the group.
To take them out on a date?
Yeah, on the personal tip. Sparky was a little braggadocios about it. “Yeah, but he called me!” That created a problem right away within the group. Sparky and I became romantically linked pretty quickly. On the business tip, she became my A&R. I trusted her ear better than my own. She was in tune with everything. She was very opinionated, but her opinions were professional. She was only 18! I was 23 and just felt like she was hipper than I was. So I took Sparky to all of my meetings. The group was breaking-up already, and I had just met Roxanne Shante maybe two weeks before they first played her answer to UTFO. I had met her at Marley Marl’s house. It was New Years Eve, and right at the break of midnight, as Mr. Magic and Marley Marl were going off the air, they played Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge”. Me and Sparky were sitting there listening to it, and I’m like, “Oh my god! That’s Shante, I just met her! But yo, listen to her voice!” Shante was only 14 years-old. I had no idea she was that young. I said, “Yo Sparky, you’re voice is ten times clearer than that! Nothing personal against her, but you’ve gotta answer that!”. First of all, UTFO were our boys, and they were from Brooklyn where Sparky’s from. I’m like, “Yo, you gotta take her for their honor!” I wrote the rap the next day – which was New Year’s Day. The studio was closed, so we couldn’t go the studio until January 2nd. “Sparky’s Turn”, subtitled “Roxanne You’re Through”. That wasn’t originally on the record. The first mix, to do something different as opposed to going to Red Alert or Mr. Magic and Marley Marl, I went to Tony Humphries, who was a club DJ on KISS-FM New York. His show came on after the rap shows. I actually went to Tony Humphries house and brought him the record. He played it on Friday night after the rap shows had went off, and New York City went crazy! The Aleem twins heard the record, I cut a deal with them and they said they wanted to remix it. Tony Humphries played it on Friday, we went in and remixed it on Tuesday, and by the next Friday they had pressed 10, 000 copies, ‘cos that’s how many orders had been placed in New York in less than a week. It was absolutely crazy. We remixed it at Chung King studios with Roddy Huey, who was the same engineer on Run-DMC’s debut album. He was the engineer on the final mix, and that’s when we added the“Roxanne, you’re through!”, because The Aleems added that little sub-hook on there.
Unfortunately, Sparky got really big-headed. Looking back, I can kinda understand why. I had plucked her out of the projects of Brooklyn and made her a star. She could have been Queen Latifah before Queen Latifah, but she got big headed and then I turned over management to her brother. A lot of stuff started going wrong. We had a baby, then we split-up. We kept breaking-up, on and off. Then she started getting with a bad crowd, I had to take our daughter. I ended-up raising our daughter – we have a daughter and a son. We’re about to do a TV show, we’re OK now but at one point I had stopped speaking to her completely.
Good to hear. How was it producing her first album?
I did the entire album myself. That’s when I started playing myself. On Sparky-D’s album, anything that’s not sampled or scratched-in? I played. By then I had started playing myself and engineering a little bit. ‘87-’88 is when I really started learning how to program drum machines and playing instruments.
How did “Round 1” with Shante come about?
That was The Aleem twins idea. Sparky and Shante were at one point bitter enemies, then after they had did the initial showdown – ‘cos neither one of them wanted to go on stage together. Had we handled that differently, we could have took them all across the world, on tour. But they were so hateful of each other in the beginning, we didn’t think of it in terms of money and showmanship. Eventually they became friends, but that almost broke-up their friendship again, because it got a little heated in the studio! The mistake we made was letting them hear each other’s rap, because it started unraveling their friendship all over again. That album hurt both of their careers, because by that time Salt ‘N Pepa had come along and had started to talk about feminine subjects, so I think Sparky and Shante cursing each other out on wax was already past its time and we shouldn’t have done it. I actually walked out of the sessions and told them I didn’t want to have anything to do with this, but The Aleems ended-up putting the record out. I never agreed for that album to be released, but their position was, “We spent money on the sessions. We’re putting this album out”.
What was the story with Kool Moe Dee stealing your song?
He had a more powerful record company. “How Ya Like Me Now”, I had split-up from Profile. Russell, who was my manager, was having the beef. They had put Run-DMC on suspension.
Because he wanted them on Def Jam?
That was always a bluff. Russell knew he couldn’t do that, They had an iron-clad contract on Run-DMC. That was never gonna happen. Russell was trying to do was make it seem like Run and ‘em had lost the magic and couldn’t produce any more hit records, so they kept handing Profile records that Profile were turning down. Believe me, I was sitting right there in the office, so I’m witnessing all of this.
Was this after Raising Hell?
Yeah. They were handing in demos that Profile were turning down. “Yo, what is this garbage?” That was Russell’s ploy to try to get Profile to drop them, but Profile wasn’t falling for that. In the meantime, I can’t get him to speak to Profile on behalf of my career, because they can’t talk for two minutes before they’re screaming at each other. That was another damaging period for my career. So I had left Profile, and I did “How Ya Like Me Know” and Mr. Magic and Marley played it one night. Profile heard the record, and they told me they wanted me come back and they wanted to sign that record. This was in May – it wasn’t until August that the damn record came out. By then, Moe Dee had already did his version of it, shot a video for it and made it the title track from his album. I couldn’t compete against that. He had a video, and I didn’t – and he was on Jive! As powerful as Profile was, Jive was more powerful. They were distributed through RCA.
Are you sure it wasn’t just a coincidence?
He heard the record, everybody heard the record in New York, but the record never came out [until later], so he said, “Fuck it, I’ma do my own version of it!” I couldn’t be that mad at him, because I got the saying from Kurtis Blow! He used to say that when we did shows on the road, “How ya like me now?” He never made a record of it, that’s where I got the idea. I decided to make a record out of it, and Moe Dee took it to the next level. At that time it was in vogue to sample James Brown, and Teddy Riley produced the track. Teddy never samples, but he sampled that time! My record came out two weeks before his. It was going up the Billboard charts and then Moe Dee came with his and it created confusion. Jive were very clever, they had their radio people calling in saying, “You’ve got it mixed up! That’s our record!” Because my record was one of the most requested records and they created confusion. Their label was better at what they were doing then Profile was. I ended up leaving Profile again behind that. I was so pissed at the way they handled that, I left them again, this time for good. That’s when I ended-up on B-Boy.
T La Rock told me straight-up, “Don’t think that Moe Dee didn’t do that on purpose”. That ignited a fire in me, and I went home and wrote “Try To Bite Me Now” in like five minutes! Then went in the studio the next day, and B-Boy put it out on my Fly Spy label. But again, Jive told Moe Dee, “Don’t answer that, because you’re gonna sell records for him!”, because Moe Dee at the time was going through his little battle with LL. They told Moe Dee, “Don’t answer Spyder-D! Keep your thing going with LL”, because they were selling records like that. So Moe Dee didn’t answer my record, so it didn’t get any steam. I’m still proud of the record. DJ Doc did the drum beat on that. By this time, DJ Doc had taken over as a pseudo Scott La Rock ‘cos he had just gotten killed. KRS had just left B-Boy, so I was bringing Sparky over to take KRS’ spot as a flagship for B-Boy. B-Boy hired me as an A&R, but it was a mess over there already. B-Boy had become a nightmare.
So you didn’t stay there long I assume?
They had already started robbing us on the 12” single of “Throwdown” by Sparky, and they took forever for the album to get processed and put out and we had lost the momentum. The “Throwdown” record was hot, and she was getting calls to perform everywhere. Sparky was pregnant with my daughter, so she decided not to do shows because she didn’t want to lose the baby, because she was a very volatile performer, she was like a female Run, so it was gonna be a problem for her.
How did you begin engineering at Power Play?
Patrick Adams told me to start engineering myself. “Only you can make it sound how you want it to sound”. Everything that I’ve learned, and most of it has been self-taught, gives you a better overall understanding of the entire industry. I’ve engineered for Fat Joe, Nas, Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def. Power Play at one point was the home of the hits, so everybody was coming through there. A lot of times, they’d have their own regular engineers, but if the regular engineers weren’t available I’d come in and do their sessions, ‘cos I was also managing the studio. I’ve engineered for Run. As a matter of fact, I think Run is still salty with me to this day!
I had been in the studio for about two or three days straight, and I had just left when I got a page. This is still in the day of beepers. I’m getting ready to get on the subway, I look at the pager and I’m like, “Who is this? This number looks familiar”. So I dropped a quarter in, and it was Run. He was like, “Yo! I need a session tonight at Power Play! I need you to do my session”. I’m like, “Yo Run, I’ve been up for three days, dude – engineering. I’m in the subway right now getting ready to go home. I ain’t seen my kids in three days, I can’t do it”, and Run was upset. “Oh, it’s like that now!” I know why he was upset. A lot of people don’t know, but Run tried to produce me once. He did it at the time when he was on fire. He really didn’t know a lot about production yet, and the fact that he took the time to try and do it? I’m very grateful for. But what he was asking me to do that day? By the way, Profile turned down the tracks that he produced.
Do you still have those tracks?
Nah! Profile has them – or had them. I would love to have those, are you kidding? Actually, one of them did come out, but I didn’t give Run credit on it. That was “The Heart of Hollis”. He was co-producing that, but he didn’t finish it. I finished it, so I didn’t give him credit on it. which probably pissed him off. So I didn’t do that session, and Run and I have never really been the same since, ‘cos we were kinda close at one point. I wouldn’t have been any good to him as an engineer at that point. My ears were shot! But he didn’t understand that. He didn’t understand the dynamics of being an engineer, that you have to have fresh ears and all of that. Me and DMC still cool, but I think Run is still salty with me. I think he never forgot or forgave that I didn’t do that session for him.
What is it about Queens MC’s that makes them stand out?
We have basements and garages more than they have that Uptown and Brooklyn. They have more of an urban setting, and we have more of a suburban setting. If anything separates them, it’s the geographical part of that. We record or rehearse in a different environment than they do, and that may cause some separation of style. If you live in Manhattan and Brooklyn, those are more crowded environments. People are living on top of each other, so that’s automatically gonna make you rap about different things and a sense of aggressiveness. Queens may be a little more laid back. Anything Uptown did, Queens wasn’t too long behind it. Even in clothing style, everything starts in Manhattan. Why? Because Manhattan is the port that everything comes to first. When a fashion comes in, it comes into the port of Manhattan and goes into the fashion district. Therefore Manhattan is gonna have it first! The Bronx is right there above Manhattan, so they’re neck and neck. Then things filter down to Brooklyn and Queens. That’s just the way it is, and it has nothing to do with hip-hop! That’s the way it’s been since the original immigrants. It’s just geography.
I’m doing one last album, called Spyder-D’s Greatest Skits. It’s my farewell to hip-hop. It’s gonna have some old stuff on it, some not so old stuff on it, and some new stuff. Chuck D is appearing on the lead single with me which is called “In Case You Didn’t Know”.
Spyder-D – “How Ya Like Me Now”
Spyder-D feat. DJ Doc – “Try To Bite Me Now”
Sparky-D – “Sparky’s Turn”
Sparky-D – “Throwdown”
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