Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,The 90's Files,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Pudgee The Phat Bastard was on the forefront of punchline rap in the early 90’s. As part of the Trackmasterz crew, he delivered a strong debut album called Give ‘Em The Finger, which featured appearances from Kool G Rap, MC Lyte and Snaggapuss. His future was looking bright, but problems with his second record label and the deaths of many with whom he’s formed close friendships with through music (Stretch from Live Squad, Tupac, Biggie Smalls and finally Left Eye from TLC) resulted in him withdrawing from the spotlight for over a decade. Here, in the first part of our interview, Pudgee explains how it all began.
Robbie: Where did you grow up?
Pudgee The Phat Bastard: I grew-up in Harlem, and then we moved to The Bronx when I was in the fifth grade. We lived right across from Yankee Stadium.
What was the first live hip-hop show you ever saw?
I think the Fat Boys was the first time my brother could get me out at the house. It was at Latin Quarters. Maybe two times I got snuck in because of a bodyguard hook-up. With the breakers, the energy in the clubs was so much different. You had something going on which is more like the reggae clubs now, where people are on the floor, dancing upside down on their heads. The clubs kinda segued into people standing on the wall. Once the dancers left the club, it was over! Everybody came in trying to look fly, hanging by the bar. Nobody was battling. The thing I really loved about those days, there was no holding back! People were flipping and lifting each other up and jumping over each other on the floor and all kinda stuff! It was action! You came to see a show. My homeboy broke his neck trying to spin on his head. Everything centering around that time was just inventive. We are some creative motherfuckers when we wanna be!
Were you a big fan of the late night radio shows?
Chuck Chillout, Red Alert, Mr. Magic. The “World Premier”? That will forever haunt me! That’s what set it off for me! [laughs] You didn’t have all the options you had today, so you just had to wait! Even with Video Music Box, some of us couldn’t get these stations. So school was a great way to hear about what was out. “Yo! You hear so-and-so come on last night?” You had to sit up all night as a kid, listening to see if my mother comes downstairs, because she hears me up, with my ear to the speaker, waiting for UTFO to come on. Because if I didn’t hear it then, then it might be another two days until I hear it again, and everyone is talking about it!
Sitting there with your finger on the pause button!
Hell yeah! The only saving grace for me was that my father thought he was some kind of club DJ. He had every piece of equipment imaginable, so I had the tape recorder I needed to have the pause button on and just wait or jump out the bed, or sitting at my desk, waiting for it to come on. Waiting in the corner, hoping I had enough tape left! There were times when I got to the end of the tape and it ran out in the middle of a hot song that I’d been waiting for! Then I’d play that tape ten thousand times and the tape would pop and I would try to tape it back together and then it would warp, and I would be pissed!
What made you start rhyming?
In the beginning, I hated my speaking voice. I’m Puerto-Rican and Black – and I didn’t speak like everyone else. When my mother came to New York, she was very adamant about not having a distinguishable accent. She would educate in the way of speaking the Queens English. She made us read the encyclopedia in front of her. We learned things at home like how to give firm handshake and make eye contact – things that show integrity. A lot of those things I carried on with me into the business the world. I started rapping to get past hating my own voice. You know the first time you hear your voice on the answering machine? You’re like, “Yuck! That’s me?” People would always say, “Oh, you talk white!” I heard Roxanne Shante on the radio making her response to UTFO. For a long time I was a fan of UTFO, I liked the wordplay. Being with the voice thing and the fact that I had weight issues when I was younger, I was always defending myself verbally and mentally sparring with people. When I heard it put to music, I said, “That’s dope!” Then I heard Roxanne Shante make a response, which felt like the idea of battling or verbal sparring, so I picked-up the pen.
What was the next step?
When I got to high school, I was writing but I wouldn’t tell anybody. It was just books and books of words, because I still hadn’t found my rap voice yet. I had these dope rhymes but I didn’t know how to deliver ‘em. Where I’m from, the battles are a big thing, so I started looking at the Busy Bee and the Kool Moe Dee battles, that’s where it steered me into the braggadocio rhymes instead of storytelling like Slick Rick or Dana Dane – I didn’t like that, it didn’t make me feel competitive.
One day I told friend of mine, his name was Mark Allan, that I rapped secretly [laughs]. When I said the rhyme to him, he looked at me and he was like, “Yo, that’s incredible! You could be a rapper!” That kinda charged me, so I started looking for a studio. I was using word of mouth to find who had a studio I could record in. I ran into this guy on my block who had a little 4-track, and we started recording in his house. People started hearing me, and then I actually joined a group. My name was MC Effect at that time, and I met up with this kid named Poet. His style was different than mine, so I said, “Let’s be a crew”. We started making song together, we still didn’t have a rap name, and we started making songs. People would hear them and say, “The person with the high voice needs to make an album”, which of course was me.
This wasn’t MC Poet from Queens I assume?
No, he was from The Bronx. I still stuck with him, because of loyalty, but slowly but surely he weaned himself off, because he decided that standing on the corner and drinking 40’s was more the road he wanted to go. That’s what really started me on my journey as an MC. Knowing that someone doesn’t have the drive and determination that you do. You either have to decide that you want it or don’t want it. I decided at that point I was going to be a rapper, that was it. After leaving him, because I had to go pay for a session somewhere else, at a little per-hour studio, I wrote a song called “I Got It Better” [laughs].
At what stage did you start trying to get a deal?
I didn’t want a deal for the reasons that people want deals today. I wanted a deal to validate me, so that the world could hear what I do. I started meeting people and trying to get them to hear me as an artist. Gang Starr, after their first single, I knew Lord Finesse from The Bronx when he was trying to get on, he was a friend of mine. O.C. and I were very close. Nas, myself and Akinyele who would be on the phone every night, writing rhymes and going back and forth to to see where we were at at that stage in our MC career. “Yo, I got his new one! Let me let you hear it!” Nas, Akinyele and myself were like a triad for quite some time. I met them through this girl that I grew up with, named Candice. Candice was this go-getter, hustler, hood chick. She was rapping and she formed this group called The Ghetto Girlz.
I’ve got that record, a remake of the GETO Boys called “My Man’s Playing Tricks On Me”.
Ha! You’re killing me right now! [laughs] Way back in the days she had record out, around the time that Sweet Tee and the girls from Queens made that record, “Oh, Veronica”, Candice and some other females had made a record with Dr. York Records. Back then, putting records out was a big thing, and she was trying to become something relevant in the 90’s. She got the attention of some guys in California, and the label had a female MC that did the Miami Bass thing – her name was MC Luscious and the song was called “Boom, I Got Your Boyfriend”, which became a big hit. So we went out to LA, and Diamond produced something on the record. Stretch from Live Squad – who Ed Lover brought out, was actually the person who introduced me to Tupac when Tupac was just starting to dance with Digital Underground – Stretch wrote some records on there and a couple of other people.
So Candice ended up being in a group with this girl named Uneek, who was a part of the Bounce Squad later on in her career. So they were the Ghetto Girlz. They ran around doing all these shows, they knew everybody, and every chance she would get, Candice would say, “He’s an incredible rapper”. People started paying attention, and she introduced me to this girl named Essence. Essence was from the New Jack City soundtrack, she had a song called “Lyrics To The Rhythm” and she was signed to Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster Flash and I did some records together but it just wasn’t the relationship I felt I needed to be in as far as producer/artist. I felt something was lacking, so I ended-up separating from him.
My cousin Jamal in Queens knew DJ Clue, they had a family member in common. DJ Clue wasn’t “DJ Clue?” back then, he was just someone who was putting out mixtapes at the time, and every mixtape he put out I would be on the intro. I would freestyle over a hot beat that was current and just try to go hard. Shortly thereafter, the buzz started became kinda crazy. Lenny S, who now works at Def Jam, he’s actually my cousin. Him and my other cousin Bert printed up thousands and thousands of stickers at Bert’s job and put stickers with my name up on every train, on every street corner – everything. The logo was a drawing of me with an afro and my middle finger up. Everyone was saying, “Who is this kid?”
Were you calling yourself Pudgee by then?
I realized that MC Effect isn’t ringing a bell for me. I had gained all this weight and I said to this girl, “I hate the fact that I’m fat”. She was like, “You’re not fat – you’re pudgy!” So everyone started calling me Pudgee. I had a really extensive vocabulary – I was in spelling bee’s, I did well in school – so people would say, “Do you think you’re better than me because you use these big words?” It got to the point where people would say, “Pudgee? I hate that fat bastard!” So I said, “I’ma take that and I’ma turn that into a positive!” So I became Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard. My mother hated it. I had learned in school that the best way to remove power from people is to do something like that. Once I took on that moniker, it did exactly what I imagined it to do. Seeing the buzz that just the name caused fueled me to take it a step further. Around that time, Clue took his mixtape and put it on CD’s. That was a big deal, like coming out with a record. He was making blend tapes to really make himself visible while he was working at Footlocker. We were doing the damn thing at that time.
Fast forward, my god sister Aisha was getting signed to Sweet Tee, who was putting together a female group called The Poison Posse. Aisha grew-up with Red Hot Lover Tone from Trackmasterz, they went to school together. She said, “I’m tired of people not knowing how hot you are”, and she called Tone on the phone and said, “My god brother’s hot, I want you to hear him”. I spat two or three verses for him, and within the next three weeks they had the deal with Giant/Warner Brothers.
“Mommie Dearest” was an ill story.
That was a Harlem story that was actually a true story.
How long did that album take to record?
I would say a month and a half. The demos we did with Trackmasterz, most of them ended up going on. The demos were on 4-track, so we had to re-record them. “Checkin’ Out The Avenue” was the reason that Tupac and I became very close friends. Stretch said, “You’ve gotta meet my homeboy, because he’s in love with that demo you did”, which was “Checkin’ Out The Avenue”. We met in Atlanta, and that song created one of the most substantial friendships of my adult life. Kool G Rap – I idolised him. He’s an amazing lyricist and wordsmith. He’s somebody who’s never gotten his just due. He wrote “I’ll Take Your Man” for Salt ‘N Pepa, he wrote stuff for Roxanne Shante. That man’s a thinker. He gave me the validation that it’s OK to write for someone else. The stuff he wrote was from their point of view, that’s a gift. “This Is How We Fuck It Up…” was a big deal for me. It was almost like, “I can’t make this album without him on it”. Having him on that song was like a stamp of, “I think you’re a dope rapper”.
Part 2 features Pudgee responding to the Joe Fatal’s numerous shots, working with Biggie and his ill-fated second album.
“Checkin’ Out The Avenue”
“This Is How We Fuck It Up” feat. Kool G Rap
“Funkmaster Flex Hot ’97 Freestyle” 
“DJ Clue Freestyle” feat. P Dap 
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