Filed under: Features,Harlem Nights,Interviews,Rap Veterans,The 80's Files,Video Clips,Video Vault
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
As the first rapper from Cleveland signed to a New York label, MC Chill made history not only as a recording artist but later as the leader of a crew of local battle MC’s who had a major impact on the New Music Seminar in the late 80′s. From the days where it actually was about “where you’re from”, MC Chill brought his own signature sound to the streets of NY and gave the locals a run for their money.
Robbie: How did you first get your appetite to grab the mic?
MC Chill: When I first heard “Rapper’s Delight”, I thought it was a guy I knew that was on the mic, he was a DJ. I became friends with this guy kid who became DJ Finesse, and he was from Queens. He used to make these tapes of all the good songs that weren’t being played over the air, like the Crash Crew and the Funky 4+1, Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three. I just really got down like that and was saying rhymes soon after that.
What the scene in Cleveland like back then?
When I started, it was one major crew, that was the crew I was down with. We were called The Bomb Squad. It was two DJ’s – this one kid named Cochise and the other kid, Kid Finesse. We had about three other MC’s – myself, Wayney G, and this young lady, who we called The Mellow Ice T at the time. Finesse and Cochise both rhymed they were DJ’s and they rapped. From us going on the radio, we kinda started the hip-hop scene in Cleveland. We were the first cats on Cleveland radio – one of the first supreme rap crews in the city. Sometime after that, I started doing some solo stuff and ended up getting a record deal out of New York.
Kid Finesse was featured on your first single, right?
Right. That was my guy, we were fraternity brothers. In college, we were roommates. Back then, DJ’s ran the groups, ‘cos when they did parties, they paid the DJ’s, because the DJ’s had all the records, they had the equipment, they had the sound systems. The MC’s just plugged up the mics. I ended up getting the deal ‘cos Mr. Magic was in Cleveland with Roxanne Shante and also Fly Ty, who was starting Cold Chillin’ records. My producer, Mike Chapman, was working at a radio station here, WDMT, and said he was gonna go pick ‘em up and asked if I wanted to go roll. Mike put in one of my demos that I was working on for a regional deal, and Mr. Magic asked if he could he take it back to New York. A couple of weeks later he called me back and asked if I wanted to be on Fever Records. They were just losing Luv Bug Starski, ‘cos he was going to a major label. It was kinda funny, ‘cos here comes this kid from Cleveland, Ohio, and he’s replacing Starski. Nobody from Cleveland had a national deal, and no one from in between the west coast or east coast had ever had a national deal, so that was kinda crazy.
What was the next step?
I did the pre-production in Cleveland and recorded it in New York at Quad Studios, which at the time everyone was working at Quad. It became famous because it was the studio that Tupac got shot at. So we mixed at Quad and a couple of people came through. Marley Marl came through, and probably the most interesting, that was on “MC Story”, was Melle Mel.
How did that happen?
I wanted someone to do sixteen bars – do a verse – on one of my songs, and they asked me who I did I want and they supposed who they could get. They were naming people who were connected with the label, ‘cos Fever and Sutra were together, and the Fat Boys at the time were on Sutra, so we were kinda like label-mates, so we talked about doing something with the Fat Boys. Kid ‘N Play were on the same label, but at the time they were the Fresh Force crew, and they shortened their name when they left Sutra records. They were Kid Coolout and Playboy. So we talked about Shante, we talked about a couple of people, then they brought up Melle Mel, ‘cos they also did distribution for Sugarhill. In my opinion, Melle Mel is the greatest to ever write a rhyme – hands down, one of the greatest MC’s ever. I was like, “Oh shit! Y’all can get Melle Mel?”
The thing was, they didn’t want to pay Melle Mel writer’s royalties, so they told me I had to write his lyrics. I’m lie, “Who write rhymes for Melle Mel?!” They assured me that it was gonna be OK, they were gonna tell Mel and they would give him a couple grand and he was gonna come in and learn my lyrics and do it. So I’m kinda nervous. I went home, I channelled Melle Mel and listend to a bunch of Melle Mel songs. I really was listening to his verse on “Beat Street”. I listened to that over and over and wrote the lyrics.
So I went to New York, Mel walks in and says, “OK, let me listen to the track so I can write my lyrics”, and I’m like, “Oh shit, they didn’t tell him!” So I’m scared to death – here’s Melle Mel and he don’t know that I wrote his lyrics! I’m not telling Melle Mel I wrote lyrics for him! So the producer, Mike Chapman, says, “We already got your lyrics”. He laughed, he thought that was real funny. I’m standing there – man, I could die! He said, “Who wrote my lyrics?” Mike said, “Oh, Chill wrote your lyrics”. He looked at me, he laughed and said, “You wrote my lyrics? Lemme hear my lyrics that you wrote for me”. He’s crackin’ up, like “Who is this fool?” So Mike Chapman saved my life. He said, “I tell you what – listen to the track and listen to the lyrics that Chill wrote for himself”. So we put on “MC Story”, and Mel’s boy looked at Mel and goes, “Yo man, you can’t front. Those were some nice lyrics!” And Mel says, “OK, that’s cool. So let me hear what you wrote for me”. I had it on a legal pad, so I handed it to him and all he did was erased the bit at the very end. But other than that, he said my lyrics were bangin’.
I’m glad to hear there was a happy ending to that story!
Today, that’s the song that stands the test of time. People like “Bust This Rhyme” and “Downbeats” and “Nightmare on Chill Street”, but “MC Story” is the one I’m most proudest of.
What was Marley Marl’s involvement?
People always ask me, they though that the MM2 was Marley Marl, but I think it’s actually Mr. Magic getting credits for hooking up the deal. We already did all of the pre-production in Cleveland and mixed it down in New York. Marley came, but most of the work had already been done, so he kinda went, “OK, go ahead and handle it”.
The cover was hilarious with the girls on the beach and the giant champagne bottle.
I came up with the concept of me being on the beach wearing warmer stuff and being chill. They asked me, “Where will we get the girls from?” I said, “Sal has a weekly bikini contest at the Devil’s Nest”, which is a club he had at The Bronx. I was on my way to Atlanta to do a show with Wendle, LA Dream Team and [MC] Shy-D, so I shot the album cover and I was right back outta there. Everybody always asks me, “Did you have a chance to meet the girls? Did y’all have a party and drink the champagne?” All I did was I came, I took the picture, and I was back out to the airport. The champagne was a big bottle of Moet that Sal had from The Fever and we did drink a little bit of that, but I didn’t get to know the girls on the cover.
How was your album received?
Considering that I was a pioneer of non-coastal rappers, coming from in-between, it took a little bit of getting used to. But the good thing is I came in with The Fever and Mr. Magic – I couldn’t ask for better connections. The Fever was one of the first hip-hop clubs of any note. Any day at The Fever you just met a who’s who – I met Afrika Bambatta, Kool Herc, Red Alert, just hangin’ out. I did shows with Run and them, Dana Dane, Salt ‘N Pepa, Lisa Lisa, we did shows across the country. Me being the first cat not from the coast, we were received pretty well.
How would you describe your live shows from that time?
We called it the greatest show on earth. We had singers and dancers back before anybody was really doing shows like that. I had two girl singers, I had hip-hop dancers, and of course I had my beatbox Beatmaster T, so it was a full stage of people. All my songs had those little singy hooks, so I had the girls singing, dojng choreography, along with the two hip-hop dancers. This one kid named Spin Love who was incredible – his headspins were sick! And this other kid, Teddy Ted, who was like a pop lock tick genius, so the stage show always had a lotta action, a lotta energy going on.
Did you have a decent record deal as far as royalties and such?
By the time the money started coming in, I was a college student. My money always went to my education, so whenever I needed money for school I’d tell Fever Records or Sutra and they would write me a check. I got my mechanicals and my song writer’s royalties. I was happy with the way it turned out, it was a great experience.
I take it you were received well in New York?
New York was like a second home, especially when I started working with Fresh Gordon, that’s like my brother. I got to know a lot of the Brooklyn cats. I met B.I.G, I met Jay-Z. I was real good friends with one of the cats that started Jay-Z off – Big Jaz, that’s my boy. So I had a Bronx connection and a Brooklyn connection going on back then.
On to Part 2, where Chill explains how he led the Cleveland invasion of the NMS MC Battle for World Supremacy.
MC Chill performs at the Disco Fever reunion, 1986
MC Chill feat. Melle Mel – “MC Story”
MC Chill – “Nightmare On Chill Street”
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