Filed under: 45 Kings,Flavor Unit Special,Interviews,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Concluding my discussion with Lakim Shabazz, he talks about leaving Tuff City, remembering his friend Apache, Queen Latifah incorporating the Flavor Unit name and plans for his final album.
Robbie: So how long after the second album did you get off Tuff City?
Lakim Shabazz: I was being managed by Dave Funkenklein. At one point in time, if you wasn’t managed by Red Alert or somebody like that, then you was under Dave Funkenklein. He had me, he had Ultramagnetic – he took us to Paris. I went to Japan through Funkenklein – me, Latifah, Chill Rob G and Latee. Other companies were interested in me, they had tried to buy my contract from Tuff City. The first offer that was presented to Aaron Fuchs was $150,000. You’re talking 1990, ‘91. I think Epic Records had offered him $300,000 to let me up outta my contract, and he just would not do it. So part of me recording all of those extra little songs on those breakbeat albums 45 King was putting out was to fulfill obligatory responsibilities I had on the contract. I did that for two or three years and eventually got smart and got my own entertainment lawyer and managed to get off Tuff City without having to pay no funds or anything, and at this point we’re fighting to get back money from them, so actually it worked in my favor. I don’t have any sour taste in my mouth toward Aaron Fuchs. I was a young guy, I wanted to hear myself on the radio and I was able to achieve that.
How many albums were you committed to?
It was a three album deal, but once my first album out and I saw all the hype I had on it, and once I saw that I wasn’t being promoted the way Latifah was being promoted at Tommy Boy, that’s when reality set in. I’m pretty sure I recorded over three albums worth of material for him. To this day, Aaron has songs on me that he never released. He could put out an EP on me and each songs over twenty years old. He also has production work that I’ve done. From time to time he’ll put out little compilation beat albums, and some of my production is on there. But he owns the rights to those things, so it doesn’t bother me.
How did “Flavor Unit Assassination Squad” come about?
That track right there was right at a time when the Juice Crew had just dropped “Symphony”. We were rivals, but we were all cool. Like I said, before I got with 45 King, I used to run with Biz. We wanted to give everybody a “posse” song that can possibly run neck and neck with “The Symphony”. I look at that one and “Scenario” and “Buddy” – those were some good collaborative songs with groups. It was fun doing “Flavor Unit Assassination Squad”. Mark found the beat, one day we came over his crib, he was like, “Yo, listen to this James Brown loop! I want all of y’all rhymin’ on it for this compilation album”.
How did you feel when Latifah copyrighted the Flavor Unit name?
Of the original Flavor Unit members, Latifah was the one who became the most successful, financially. She had the finances to incorporate the name and to build a brand around it. We sat down as a unit and discussed this, and everyone came to the agreement that it was OK for her to do that. So she incorporated the name and they got Flavor Unit Management, and eventually they built the label and the movie company and the rest is history! But from it’s inception, it was something that was discussed and agreed upon. At one point in time, we had a family-knit circle, but as they say, money changes people. I’ve been working in health care for twenty years, because I’m going to provide food, clothing and shelter for my family regardless if hip-hop is going to do it or not. If you look at the success of Latifah and you look at all the other original Flavor Unit members – I’m a supervisor in a hospital and I work part-time for a pediatrician. Chill Rob G works full-time as a security guard in a mall, Latee does art, Double J owns a day-care center, a soul food restaurant and a convenience store, and Lord Ali Ba-Ski works a nine to five as well. I’m not gonna sit here and kick Latifah’s back in, however if we were still a tight family, we should be under her umbrella. It’s not like we wanna be rich, you should put us in a situation where at least we’re all working under the Flavor Unit umbrella. I can’t front, knowing that Latifah and Shakim are multi-millionaires, no way, shape, form or fashion should 45 King be worrying about how he’s gonna pay his rent! However, I wish Latifah all the success in the world. I don’t have nothing but love for her and Skakim.
What are your best memories of Apache?
Out of all the MC’s in the Flavor Unit, I developed the closest relationship with Apache and Latee, because they were brothers. I have some many memories of Apache, but my greatest is him making me a better MC, and I think me making him a better MC. Apache would stay on you to be the best that you can be. He brought the beast out of me, lyrically, and I did the same for him. What a lot of people don’t know is, a lot of the rhymes that they hear on Apache’s album – I wrote – and a lot of stuff that you hear from me – he wrote. Or he would give me certain ideas and I would give him certain ideas. Out of everyone in the Flavor Unit, me and Apache did a lot of writing for a lot of people. You’ll hear our influence on Latifah’s album. I wrote a song, it’s called “Queen of Royal Badness”. Some of her lyrics on “King and Queen Creation” I wrote, some of her lyrics on “Ladies First”, I wrote – me and Apache. Me and Apache were real tight. When he died, a part of me died, literally, because that was my man through thick and thin. He would make you stand up and be the best that you can be, lyrically, and i loved him for that. He’ll always be my man for life.
I heard that he’d had serious health problems.
Once his album had came out, he was doing a lot of shows and stuff. He was partying heavy, and he blew-up as far as weight. He started eating a lot, and his eating habits had became bad, and I think he had a lot of fat build-up around the heart, which eventually led to his death. His death was because of heart failure. At one point in time, he had got real big and had been hospitalized. I think he had fluid on his lungs. It came from all the partying – excessive drinking, excessive smoking – and his eating habits had gotten outrageous. The music industry can put a whuppin’ on you. If you don’t have nobody in your corner, striving to direct you in the right direction? It can get you! I know, I’m speaking from experience. I remember when I had to swallow my pride and get a regular nine to five and face all the questions of people. “Yo, you Lakim Shabazz! You making videos, you supposed to be rich!”
How did Naughty By Nature come into the picture?
How Naughty By Nature got down with the Flavor Unit? Their name was The New Style. We used to go over to Mark’s house and chill. We would smoke our herb and be drinking and writing rhymes and kickin’ it. One day he showed us a video tape of these guys from East Orange, and it was Treach and Vinnie. They were rhyming, and after we listened to it, Apache was like, “What you think?” I said, “I like the dude with the braids”, and that was Treach. “The other guy is OK too, but I’m really feeling the guy with the braids”. Apache was like, “Yeah, I like him too”. So that was that. I said to Mark, “You got their contacts?” So me and Apache started taking Treach out with us. We started taking him to all the little industry parties and before you knew it we had Treach in the MC Battle for the New Music Seminar before you knew it we were taking him to meet Latifah and Shakim and they got a deal with Tommy Boy.
It seemed like everyone in the Flavor Unit had a deep, powerful voice when they rapped.
I came with that strong voice like that because of the time it was and the energy I was feeling. Latee and Apache? I always loved their voices. Myself, personally? I don’t like my voice! They would also say “You so small framed but you got this big, strong, powerful voice that come outta there!” I would say, “Your voice remind me of T La Rock, or Moe Dee, or DLB. I always wanted that style of voice”. As far as the voices? It wasn’t like we concentrated on it, it was just the way it sounded I guess.
The 45 King has been very open about his drug problems. Were you still working with him during that period?
I don’t think Mark was able to handle the fame and the fortune the way it had came in like that. Mark was being real sporadic with money, and he did have a little problem with getting high. I stayed by his side through all that turmoil. One thing that hurts me with him – he constantly brings that up. He allows what happened to him years ago [to] distract him from being a sought-after producer in this day and time. We’ll say, “Yo Mark, you need to be at these industry parties, hitting these guys off with these CD’s”, and he’ll be like, “Nobody wants a beat from 45 King, I’ve got a reputation!” I said, “Mark, that was over twenty years ago! All you need to let people know is ‘I produced Jay-Z’s biggest selling single ever and Eminem’s biggest selling single ever’. You play your archives for them and you can still be getting this work!” But Mark don allowed himself to become a homebody who’s stuck in his shell. He still does beats, I go check on him from time to time, but his work ethic sucks! Mark will play a beat for you, and he expects you to accept that beat just the way it is. If you say, “I like that loop, but I think you should add a little of this or a little of that to it”, he’s not going to work that out, unless I’ve got a check for him.
He’s very stubborn?
Very stubborn. Nicest guy you ever wanna meet, but very stubborn when it comes to working. But that’s my man and I love him. I understand where he comes from, because he carries a lot of hurt with him. He carries a lot of pain from what he did in the industry, and he lets those little demons and ghosts follow him. Mark is a technical genius.
Do you remember the turn-style he had in his basement?
He has that same turn-style in his home, It leads from the studio to the bathroom. Mark is real creative when it comes to that. In his living room now, he has a booth that you would see in a restaurant that you can sit in and eat. When he was living on 43rd street, his microphone booth was an old telephone booth. An old glass telephone booth – that’s what we recorded in.
What happened to all those old video tapes of you guy in the basement?
I asked him recently, I said, “Mark, all the material that we recorded over the years, do you have copies of it?” He said, “Yeah, it’s on a DAT tape somewhere”. He doesn’t take it serious. I didn’t think he’s willing to put that stuff out though.
Were you still attached to Tuff City when Latee got his deal with Epic?
When Latee had a deal with Epic, I was still signed to Tuff City. When I did my verse for Naughty By Nature’s album, “1,2,3”, Aaron took my royalties for that. That just pushed me overboard. This guy was straight money hungry. Latee had an album deal at one point, with Epic Records. I had produced four tracks for Latee’s album. Something happened between him, Latifah and Shakim – I don’t want to go into it – but the deal fell through. If Latee’s album had have come out, that might’ve been a platinum joint for us. He had a collage of producers – he had me on there, he had Diamond, he had my man Masayuki [Kudo], which was a Japanese kid. He was part of Native Tongues crew, he used to roll around with De La and Q-Tip and he had the hot tracks. I think Latee’s album would’ve been an epic album for the world to hear, because all people ever got of Apache’s little brother were a few singles. I always wanted to record an album with Latee, because we’ve gotta do something commemorating Apache. We have to.
What was the story with the Cat Jams album you featured on in 2006?
That was something where we’d go over to Mark’s house and he’d be like, “Lak, rhyme for me!” And he recorded it and put it out! [laughs] It was a basic little freestyle rhyme. Aaron cut me a little check, I told him, “Go ahead, you can have that”. I save all the good stuff for me, so when I do drop this new album, the world is gonna know! My goal is to do at least one more album. I feel like the Lakim saga would not be complete without at least three albums. I did one and two – that’s Knowledge and Wizdom – but I’ve gotta plant that Understanding seed in the world. This final project is titled The Explanation.
When can we expect that?
I’m looking forward to the next three months to be hitting people with two fresh singles. You’ll be one of the first people to get it.
What do you consider the best thing you’ve released?
As a complete package? I would say Pure Righteousness. It was just the energy on that album, I like how it came out. I like how it was recorded – it was recorded kinda loud. When you drop the needle on the wax, it kicks. Some people told me it was classic.
“The Lost Tribe Of Shabazz”
“Your Arms Too Short To Box With God”
“If You See A Devil, Smash Him”
“Hands of Fate”
Naughty By Nature feat. Apache and Lakim Shabazz – “1,2,3″
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