Filed under: 45 Kings,Features,Flavor Unit Special,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,The 80's Files
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
With the exception of Queen Latifah, Lakim Shabazz proved to be the most prolific of the original Flavor Unit line-up, releasing two albums and a long list of guest spots on 45 King projects during his time at Tuff City. Despite his diminutive frame, Lakim wielded “the voice of power” with authority, as he combined the teaching of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths with Brag Rap with a previously unseen finesse over some of the best beats of the era.
Robbie: Where did it all start for you?
Lakim Shabazz: I was always interested in music since I was a little kid. I used to always listen to my mother’s albums and things of that nature. I’m from Newark, New Jersey, and out here spinning club music was a big thing as I was growing up. I started out deejaying, spinning club music, and that’s how I got introduced to hip hop. I met a couple a few DJ’s, and when I first saw somebody spinning the wax back and forth, scratching records, that intrigued me.
When did you start writing rhymes?
I met my DJ, Cee Just, when I was in ninth grade. I was still deejaying, and he convinced me to write my first rhyme. There were a couple of other guys that used to come over to his house and they’d be rhyming. I never even thought about picking up a mic, and he asked me to write a rhyme. I credit my man Cee Just and my brother Lamel Born for that. They inspired me to write my first rhyme and I’ve been rhyming ever since.
How did you get your MC name?
When I first started emceeing it was La Kim. I took that name from my honorable name that I was born with, which is Lakem.
What were your first recordings?
We were doing our own little demos tapes and creating our own little songs. We had two breakbeats that we liked, Cee Just would chop it up, I’d kick a rhyme and we’d record it to a cassette tape. It would distributed through the neighborhood. If you lived in our area, you knew that we were a crew that was rocking in that section of Newark. They were familiar with us through the tapes or from us performing at block parties.
Were you trying to get signed when you were making those first tapes, or were you just perfecting your craft?
We weren’t interested in no record companies back then. I was battling crews of MC’s, we were rocking at different skating rinks and we would perform at the different local high schools. Hip-hop in my area was basically still a baby, it was still growing, but it was a fresh and new form of music and everyone was gravitating towards it. I was – like you said – perfecting my craft.
How did you meet The 45 King?
When I first met Mark it was through this guy Abdul that was managing me. He had let Mark hear my demo and Mark liked this song I had did. It was called, “Girly, Girly Girl”. I had actually did a Grover Washington beat with my mouth, I had beat boxed the whole beat. Mark liked me from that point on, and I think I had to be in the tenth grade at that point. However, my relationship with this guy who had managed me had deteriorated and I hadn’t seen Mark over some time. This guy I used to hang out with named OP used to go up to Mark’s basement. Eventually he used to take me up there a couple of times and we would sit around in 45 King’s basement and watch videos of him spinning and Tito from the Fearless Four rhyming. I had to be around the eleventh grade at this stage.
By the time I got into twelfth grade I was hanging tough with Biz [Markie]. I graduated from high school in ‘86, I started hanging with Biz, and around 1988 Biz was working on the “Vapors” album and he was telling me I need to chill or whatever, wait for him. But I was an eager beaver and I had met 45 King. I had been gearing his name on the radio through Red Alert on 98.7 KISS. They used to be playing all these different joints with this “45 King Special”, so I knew I had met this guy and I’m hearing his beats on the radio. So I asked Biz to give me his number, I called Mark and he remembered me and I went over to his house a few times and kicked some rhymes for him. Eventually I met Apache, I met Latee, Lord Ali Ba-Ski, Double J, Latifah and the rest of the original Flavor Unit members and we developed a family structure where we would all come to 45 King’s house and we would vibe to beats and we would rhyme and we would just kick it. That’s eventually how we became the Flavor Unit.
Who was the original line-up?
The original Flavor Unit consisted of me, Double J, Lord Ali Ba-Ski, Apache, Latee, Nikki D, this guy named Taheed, another guy named Jamaheed – that was his brother – 45 King and Queen Latifah. Everyone else came later. One thing we take seriously in the Flavor Unit is our lyrical skills, that’s never going anywhere.
Where did Markey Fresh fit in?
Markey Fresh was considered Flavor Unit family, but the people that I mentioned? We were closer and tighter. Markey Fresh would come around but he didn’t hang with the Flavor Unit members like that. He was Mark’s man, but he didn’t do a lot with us. We were unified and we would do things together, and were supportive of each other. Markey Fresh wasn’t like that, but I love him still. May he rest in peace.
Was your verse for “The 900 Number” the first thing you recorded with Mark?
Yes it was. The rhyme that I had did on “The 900 Number” beat, that was something spur of the moment, Mark asked me to kick something to it. One day we were in the studio, I just did it. It wasn’t nothing that I was looking forward to. That album that he had did, The Master of the Game compilation that he did on Tuff City? That came years later. “The 900 Number” rhyme was real early.
You featured on a lot of those 45 King singles. Was that planned or would he just release those at random?
Those were just bonus songs. I would be in the studio, vibing with Mark, and he would lay a track. Any beat that he would do, if I liked it and it was coming out under Tuff City? Then I could rhyme to it and Aaron Fuchs didn’t have any problem with it. I was trying to record as much as I could to get away from the label situation that I was in. It took a long time to do, but eventually I did it.
Your deal wasn’t a favorable situation then?
No, once I understood the kind of deal that I had. I didn’t have an entertainment lawyer or anything like that – I was young, I was hot, heady, ready to get on the mic and attack it with my rhymes. I wasn’t really paying attention to the business side of it. It’s the whole cliche, a lotta artists go through it. They sign on the dotted line, thinking that everything that glitters is gold – but then at the end of the day you realize that you’ve done signed this bum deal. Fortunately for me, I feel like the music and message was powerful enough to stamp my name in the history books and the minds of the people who are affected by hip-hop culture. I appreciate what Tuff City did for me at the same time, I have to give them credit for getting my music out there. It wasn’t a very lucrative deal, but to this day people still identify with me as a good, lyrical MC. I appreciate the love.
What can you tell me about making Pure Righteousness?
With my first album? I was an eager beaver, ready to get out there. Being a member of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths, that had a lot of influence in my songs, as you can hear. Me and Mark did that whole album in two weeks. With my second album, I took a little more time to think on it, but at the same time I was being affected by realizing that I had a messed-up record deal, so it was really hard to concentrate on producing the best product that I could produce when I knew that in the situation that I was in it wasn’t going to get promoted how I wanted it to be. Industry blues is what we call it. The second album took me a little more time to do because I started dibbing and dabbling into production. I got that from 45 King, too. He got me into producing beats.
Did he teach how to dig for breaks or were you already doing that?
I used to DJ, so I was always into funky music – soul, R&B. Mark taught me an appreciation for a kick, he gave me an appreciation for a snare, he gave me an appreciation for a hi-hat, and I really started concentrating on different musicians from dealing with Mark. Before Mark, I had a collection of records but I wasn’t really concentrating on the percussionist, the guitarist, who’s playing the bass, who’s playing the sax, and Mark made me actually concentrate on the musicians. I’ve had the privilege of being to be in the studio around Diamond, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Showbiz, Q-Tip – all of them influenced me. Everyone from from Prince Paul to Hank Shocklee, these are all people who I looked up to as far as with production, and got little tricks of the trade from everybody, but Mark really opened that up for me. As I started getting with these different producers, we would exchange names of artists that had different breakbeats. To this day I still do that with Diamond. There’s nothing like the sound of a hot kick and a snare that was recorded in the late 60’s or the early 70’s. You can’t get that sound in this day and time.
How did you get involved with Diamond’s first album?
When I heard his first single, “I’m Not Playing”, I really liked it. Once I met him through 45 King we exchanged numbers and I used to catch the train up to Diamond’s house. I used to play records to Diamond, and when he heard the John Handy bassline he was like, “Yo, let me use that!” I was like, “Go ahead, no problem”, and he gave me co-production credit on the song [“Fuck What You Heard”]. We used to do things like that. If he played me something and he didn’t have plans on using it – like even to this day. 45 King is the same way, we like passing loops and records along to one another. Biz used to do this with us, we’d do it with Kid Capri. I watched Large Professor and Q-Tip work on Apache’s album, I learned how to filter a bassline, how to sample on a high bandwidth, there’s so many different tricks that I learned from these guys. My production is a mixture of a 45 King, a Diamond D, a Q-Tip, a Large Professor, a Showbiz, a Beatnuts, a Buckwild. That’s like my family right there. Big L was discovered by Lord Finesse when he was fifteen years old. Fat Joe had an album release party at this club called The Blue Flamingo. Finesse was like, “Yo Lak, I’m about to my stage. Watch Lak, he ill!” Big L got on that stage at fifteen, and from that point on, I knew he had it. I said, “Man, that boy is the truth!” He was fifteen and he killed it at Fat Joe’s album release party.
What was the story with that song you did with Diamond, “I Can’t Take No More”? Why was it on the Class-A Felony album?
Diamond came to me and told me he was doing this song that he wanted me to be on. It was just a favor for Diamond. That’s my man, so I just did it. A lot of people not up on that song, I told Diamond, “We need to perform that song at shows”. He did a remix for it, too.
“Brothers In Action” was a great track. Who was Tasheen?
Tasheen was somebody that actually went to college with Shakim. Shakim was Queen Latifah’s manager. Tasheen became a member of the Nation and he was into hip-hop and started rhyming. That was my brother in the Nation, and I wanted him to be able to show some of his skills on the mic, so when the opportunity presented itself for him to be featured on a song, I let him do it.
Did Tuff City pay for your trip to Egypt for the video for “Lost Tribe of Shabazz”?
Tuff City did pay for the trip to Egypt. It was a shocker to me. That was always a dream for mine. I got knowledge of self when I was thirteen and I didn’t get signed to Tuff City until I was 20, so travelling to Africa was always a dream of mine. Never in my lifetime did I think I’d be doing a video there. I presented the idea to Aaron, and before you knew it I got a call saying I was going to Egypt! To this day, I’m grateful. I think to this day I’m the only rapper to actually film a video right there. There’s no props, I’m actually floating down the Nile river. I was there for a week, I stayed in different parts of the country. I was in Luxor, Aswan and Cairo. It was a beautiful experience.
The first time I went to California, Aladdin and DJ Muggs had an apartment in downtown Hollywood, and me and my DJ Cee Just stayed there for a week. This was before Cypress Hill was even thought of as a group. Actually, me and my DJ Cee Just smoked the first blunt with Muggs and ‘em. When we went to Cali they weren’t even smoking trees in blunts – they were smoking trees in bamboo paper, and me and Cee Just smoked a blunt with Muggs and B-Real and ‘em. When Cypress Hill did a show in Manhattan in Wetlands, B-Real pulled me on the stage and he let the audience know, “This is my man Lakim! I want y’all to know – he’s the first one to smoke a blunt with us!” That’s a little part of hip-hop history a lot of people don’t know.
Part 2 covers the later days of the Flavor Unit, his thoughts on Queen Latifah and plans for the future.
“We Got The Funk”
“The 900 Number” [Ced Gee Remix]
“Sample The Dope Noise”
“I Can’t Take No More” feat. Diamond D
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