Filed under: Features,Harlem Nights,Interviews,Not Your Average,Uptown Kicking It
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Having cut his teeth working with the Diggin’ In The Crates crew at the beginning of his career, Milano Constantine went on to sign a deal with Warner Bros. but was let go before the project was released. Thanks to a handful of independent singles, four mixtapes and notable guest spots with The Beatnuts and the P Brothers, Milano has continued to rep that classic Uptown style with his witty wordplay and vocabulary spill. Following an extended leave of absence, ‘Lano is set to return the rap game with three new projects. He took a little time out to speak about how he came up, working with Big Pun, Showbiz and T-Ray and how the late Party Arty taught him his most valuable lesson as an MC.
Robbie: What are you working on at the moment?
Milano Constantine: I’ve got the Alfa Romeo mixtape. It’s a vintage feel, I’ve got some unreleased, uncut raw stuff from the lab on there, and some new stuff that I’ve been working on. I had to take time off, but I feel very blessed, and now is time for me to go back into it with full force. Now I’m just feeling more comfortable with everything, you can’t put forth any good material if you have to get your life situated, everything has to go in line correctly. This is a great time in my life, I just had a daughter. My mother is in good health – she was really sick. You’ve gotta take care of your family first and music will come secondary. I wanted to reach out to y’all guys for always keeping that platform for me. God bless you guys always keeping me alive. I thank you guys for that.
No problem. Are you still working with the P Brothers?
I’m doing an EP with them gentlemen. With The Gas album, we only came with vintage. With that being said, we just want to continue in that whole realm of things. They just sent me twelve joints that are crazy, so I’m about to zone out to those and get it done. Then after that an EP with Gem Crates. We just moving forward, that’s all we can do. Ain’t no moon walking over here.
What sparked off your appetite to start rhyming?
It was ill – my mom’s is Puerto-Rican, my father’s in African-American and Native American, so my father had the jazz, my mom’s had the Latin, and my brother at the time – he was older than me – he was coming up with the hip-hop. I remember hearing “Super Rhymes”, I was just like, “Wow! That’s fresh!” As rap progressed, I progressed. I remember listening to Nas, Raekwon, Kool G Rap, Rakim – the list goes on. Me getting captivated by the way they expressed themselves. I really wasn’t able to run around and do a lot of sports, I gravitated to reading and writing a lot. I was able to graft and put words so that people could envision it. If you was a blind person, you could still see what I was talking about.
Where did you grow up?
I actually grew-up in Manhattan. Harlem starts on 110th and I lived on 107th, Central Park West. Living in that environment, growing-up 80’s, 90’s, the crack epidemic – going through the plight of poverty and things of that nature you’re able to intake the things I was born around. You either become a negative or positive out of it. Thank God I became positive out of it through my environment. That’s how I’m able to keep up with the times, because you have to be a voice for the hood and have people relate to you, like an orator. Boulevard author.
Speaking of which, whatever happened to your ‘Boulevard Author’ album?
That’s with the P Brothers. When me and the P Brothers get together it becomes real visionary. I’ve always had the title and I’ve had songs to go, but it never quite met until the P Brothers started giving me this new material. I just knew that was gonna be the forum for it, the whole complete package.
Did you used to rap with a crew as a kid?
I kept it really secretive for a minute, and then when I got to Junior High I started getting a little into the bullshit ciphers. Then in high school I was in Graphic Arts, that was the home of a lot of individuals – Steele and Tek went here, Onyx went there. I’m cut from that cloth. From there, that’s how I met up with Showbiz through mutual friends and started getting me D.I.T.C. name up.
Where you always called Milano Constantine?
It was bugged out, because I was called Ambush. I felt like I was ambushing guys at that time when I would rhyme, ‘cos I was really, really young and would just shut-down the cipher. Ambush The One Man Assault Team. No one else knows that, so that’s some real insider shit! [laughs] Then I came up with Mullato from reading poetry, because that’s a mixture of things, and I felt like me coming into the game hard was a mixture to come, but I felt like after you say it so much it becomes Milano. I’m like, “Wow, Milano is fresh”. Because that’s Milan, Italy, and I’mma come with the fresh styles, I’mma come with the fresh wears. Always in style, always up in the illest fashion. So I came up with it like that.
What was your favorite gear coming up?
I was fuckin’ with Nautica, I was a Nautica guy. I had pieces of ‘Lo. Definitely always had the clean Fila’s on the feet, I always had the fitteds. I always try to keep it fresh, you just gotta keep it authentic like that. Belt buckles, all the Air Force, we was rocking all the color Up’s [Nike Uptowns], the Bo Jackson’s in orange. Killin’ ‘em, you know? Give an assortment – a bunch of flavors.
How did you meet Show?
That was a mutual friend, through my mom’s. It was like. “That’s Showbiz! Oh, shit! ‘Soul Clap’, that’s wild!” I ain’t wanna run up on him and tell him I could I rhyme. I finally did, and I blew his mind. He wa slike, “Yo, you sound like Nas or somebody”. I think I was like twelve or thirteen. It’s wild, I’ve known Show for a long time. When I got outta high school, that’s when I really set forth. Showbiz was like, “Come to D&D, we’re gonna do a cipher”. When I got there it was Big Pun and fifteen other dudes. I think Sunkist [aka Deshaun] was there, O.C. I set it off, I look at Pun and I’m all nervous, jittery and shit, and I just went for mines, like the old Diamond D joint. I just started going off, then he went, I went, the other guys went and me and lo and behold, me and him was the last people in the cipher. He spit some artillery shit, and I just bow-out gracefully and start laughing, and he start laughing with me. At the end of the session he said, “Yo, I love your shit. I would like to do a song with you”. I’m like, “You would like to do a song with me? How the fuck is that possible?” That’s how we did “Where You At”. I met him on a Wednesday and went to the studio on Friday. It was amazing, I couldn’t believe it.
Was that your first time in a studio?
I was recording in make-shift joints, but that was the first time me going into a studio and really laying it down.
What about demos?
I still have demos that’s under Ambush, right now. If you hear ‘em, you’ll bug out. If I was to kick those rhymes now it would sound prevalent. I think they like ‘91. ‘92. I still got ‘em on tape. I’ve still got all my shit – everything.
Can you tell me some of the titles of those demos?
I had some shit called “Jungle Life” and “New York Got A Nigga Depressed”, sampling Prodigy. It was fresh. I been at it, brother. I been gettin’ it done.
What happened after the song with Pun?
I did “Rep For The Slums”, I did the “Hey Luv” with Cuban Linx on the D.I.T.C. joint. From there I branched off. I did some shit on the Milk Me album with The Beatnuts, called “Down”, and dropping classics everywhere.
What happened with the Beat Down situation with T-Ray?
We actually got signed through Warner Bros., and that was a beautiful situation. Me, Showbiz and Lord Finesse. Unfortunately that whole situation went sour and we actually got dropped from the label. That album is so epic, it’s called The Believers. I actually still have it in my possession and one day I’mma just drop the shit. It’s unbelievable. I’ve got some shit on there called “Warrior’s Drum”, I’ve got some shit called “Harlem”. That didn’t pan out, but that was a great situation. God bless T-Ray, it’s just how the chips fall.
Were you, Show and Finesse signed as a group?
It was a production deal. They wanted me as an artist and they was the production team. It was fresh, I was able to go to Cali and that opened up new sights and sounds that I’ve never seen before. That opened up another channel of my mind. I started expanding a lot, on the beach in Malibu, drinking Momosas at 7 in the morning with slippers on. The sky lookin’ like a bag of Skittles, I’m like, “Wow”. We from New York so it’s smog and smoldery. The sky is dismal some days. For me to go out there was eye-opening and I wrote a lot of shit out there. I was happy with that, it was a great time in my life. My father said when I went out there I was a boy, and when I came back I was a man.
A change of environment is always good.
It was a lighter side. There are other places you have to connect with and be able to adapt with them. Don’t be afraid to switch up your style or switch up your music. You’re staying relevant to your sound, but don’t be afraid to switch up shit. That’s what I learned. You’ve gotta understand how to give the mixture of the two, like Pun. People will love you that way. You go too much on this side, they’re not fucking with you. You gotta give them the straight in the middle, give ‘em that blend. So I’ve been doing it like that.
Did losing that deal damage your relationship with Showbiz at all?
It was more a “just not speaking” type of fall-out. Personal issues had came up in his life and at the same time personal issues had come up in our life, and I felt that it was a bonding period. But at the end of the day you’ve got to put all that aside and just rock out. It’s about family and just keeping civility. You ain’t gonna be able to move forward if you keep malice in your heart. If it was in me, then we had got all of that out and we reconciled everything. We’ve done quite a few things, we’re fuckin’ with the Barbarian project. Puttin’ that out.
What’s the Barbarian project?
They’re a subsidiary group. I have them on a couple of joints on the Alfa Romeo mixtape. Me from Manhattan and the other two individuals from The Bronx, it gives a nice blend. We mesh well. Beats by Showbiz and I got some of my production.
You do beats too?
I used to bring beats to Showbiz and T-Ray to chop-up, like “You should chop this up, I love this”. They’d be like, “Yo, where’d you find this at? This is crazy!” So I just started fuckin’ with it myself. If you’re gonna be in the industry you gotta be a jack of all trades, an octopus. You gotta have your hands on everything.
T-Ray has a TV show now about his Freak Show.
[laughs] Yeah, I don’t really fuck with all that shit.
What are some of your best memories of Big Pun?
I would say his spirit, the glow that he had. He was just a beautiful person. Me being in the studio with him and him having a notebook. The notebook is junk-stained, soda-stained, cake stains and all that, but in the book you know is masterpieces of verses. He always would be like, “Let me hear something”. You always needed to have a verse, ready to go! “Let me hear something” and you would have to go against him. He was really on it. He told me, “Let’s say you in the booth and the engineer is there. I don’t give a fuck if you fuck up 150 times – the engineer is there for you. Don’t ever feel insecure. Don’t rush for nobody”. The way that he laid his vocals, I’m looking at it like, “Wow, this is some other shit!” I’m witnessing this all in front of my eyes, and I’m absorbing it all. Jewels that I would never tell anybody, some real intense shit.
He was like Pac or Biggie to Latin music. He was the king of all kings when it came to shit. His wordplay. Pun took G Rap and meshed it all together. I wasn’t around [Big] L as frequent, but the times I was I seen him do a verse in five minutes. I’m like,’ That’s impossible”. I was actually in D&D, and we were upstairs. He come in and he was like, “Yo! I gotta do a verse!” We were like, “We’re leaving”, and he was like, “I’ll be out in five minutes”. He comes down in five minutes, and I’m like, “Did you do the verse?” and he’s like, “Yeah, ad-libs and everything”. I heard the song the next day and I was like, “He did that? He’s a fuckin’ beats!” Just beong around people like that, you’ve gotta keep your sword so very sharp.
You can’t slack for a minute.
No, it would be embarrassing, ‘cos O.C. would come and smack you something. A.G. would definitely hit you with a whip. You really had to be on point with everything. Party Arty was a great mentor. When I met him, I didn’t even know what the fuck a bar was! He was like, “How are you writing the verse?” I was like, “I’m just writing all the way down to the end of the page and that’s the verse”. He’s like, “Nah! You gotta separate it into two sentences! That’s how you count out a sixteen”. I was like, “You’re right!” So God bless the dead, God bless Party Arty. He left a legacy and he left with me with some jewels that I would keep on giving people.
I have four of your mixtapes, what can you tell me about them?
‘Classic Edition’ was the first one that I put together. When I came back from California, that’s when I dropped ‘Spanish Harlem’. ‘Sidewalk Stories’ was experimenting with different styles and drum patterns, broaden your mind type of shit. Then I dropped the ‘Hurt Locker’ mixtape, I wanted to go back to the dirt, the essence of everything. I really liked the movie, so I thought that was a great adaption of that. ‘Alfa Romeo’ mixtape is basically that fast life, vintage feel, fresh appeal, like you’re going to Italy shit, Milan shit.
You did a song with Nate Dogg and Black Rob too, right?
That was with T-Ray, too. That was at the invention of Pro-Tools, so I wasn’t there for that situation. It never came out, but it was a fuckin’ fire song though.
Why did you start digging for breaks?
I’m a thrift shop kinda guy. Real antique stuff, vintage beer signs, nic-naks and do-dads. I really think that’s kinda fly. Or if you see a shitload of records in a dumpster, you pick all of them shits up and take ‘em home. I finally convinced my mom to give me all of her records so I could put ‘em in the room and put ‘em in the different colored crates all nice and it’d be all decorative. I gave her that bullshit story, I just wanted to keep the records. My father had the mean Thelonius Monk albums, Miles Davis, Sergio Mendes and Coltrane. It was opening up different doors in my young mind. I went to public school and started to learn how to play the piano and read music. I started seeing all these record stores everywhere and spending my little allowance on records. Just be at my house and I used to play the samples and put ‘em on tape, one after the other. I’d be like, “If I ever have an album, I would use this sample and this sample”. I remember listening to Original Flavor and they had all of the George Benson samples. “Oh, I got that! It’s not for nothing”. It creates a warm feeling in your heart when you go through the dusty crates, get your fingers dirty and come up with that shit that no one’s heard, or flip it in different ways. You’re putting the puzzle together in another way.
Where did that Lilo and Stitch reference come from? I think you’re the only rapper to ever mentioned them.
I’m really an artsy guy, I went to the Art and Design High School. I really know how to draw Japanese animation, I have a whole folio, I can really paint. I’m multi-faceted, I’m a cartoon kid at heart. I went and bought all the old figures, I got Anthro and Lion-O big-ass toys. I’ll buy a set for my son and one for me and leave it in the box. I’m a collecting kinda guy. That’s why I may make an oddball reference but if you know it, it will make you chuckle. Just using metaphors in a wild why. You’re blessed by even knowing how to use words – some people are mute and can’t even speak.
What are some of the best live shows you’ve seen?
I remember seeing Nas in The Fever, that fucked my head up. That was fuckin’ crazy. He had some crazy Nikes on that I’ve never seen in my whole life, and he had a gigantic sized magnum of Moet on stage. It had to be around Illmatic.
What makes Uptown stand out from everywhere else?
Harlem was already Black upper-echelon, Harlem Renaissance. It was already at the pinnacle of Black success, so I think we’ve always kept that tradition at it’s highest fashion. When I was in high school I has leathers in fourteen different colors – white, blue, purple, orange – but i had the sneakers to go with it, and the hat to go with it, and the shirt to go with it. We were coordinated. The whole Alpo, Rich Porter – around my way it was Y.T.C – the whole hustling atmosphere, the whole spirit of it. Manhattan – what is it called? It’s called Mecca. You have to come to Manhattan if you want to party. When you wanna go clubbing? You go to Manhattan. That’s how it’s kept the position of that. We got the glow on us. Money Makin’ Manhattan.
Big Pun and Milano – “Where You At”
“Deal With A Feeling”
“Done In Vain”
“Got It On Me”
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