Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,Rap Veterans,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Positive K has only released one album in his long career, the supremely entertaining The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills, but with a rich history of independent releases through First Priority and his Creative Control label, his discography is chock-full of memorable moments. As he prepares to drop new music this year, we talked about paying his dues at the Latin Quarter, how important Daddy-O and Big Daddy Kane were to his career, and answer the eternal question of just what made him so “clean-cut and dapper”.
Robbie: Where did you grow up?
Positive K: I was born in The Bronx. While my mother and father were working, they would drop me off in the daytime, and I would stay with my grandmother in The Bronx. This was across the street from Echo Park, which is the famous park known for everybody starting out deejaying, like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Sinbad and Busy Bee and all those dudes, man. I couldn’t go out late at night, so I would stay at the windows and just listen to that stuff. It was incredible. My uncle owned a corner store in The Bronx, and we used to hang out there as kids, while my uncle was working inside. There was a house party going on, it was the Fantastic Four. They had the microphone out there, “Hey shorty! You wanna say a rhyme?” Back then, everybody had their whole simple rhyme put together, “That lime to a lemon, lemon to a lime!” I did that, and the girls were like, “He’s so cute!” After that, man, it was over! It was finished for me. I knew rap was my thing.
What was your first MC name?
This is hilarious – my first name was Baby Breeze, man! [laughs] It was pretty rough. Baby Breeze! That was it.
How long did you stick with that?
That name didn’t last long at all. I had got with one of my cousins from Long Island, Corey, and my name was Baby Breeze and the group we started was called The Disco Cousins. [laughs]
When did you graduate to Positive K?
I got into a little rap group, we were called The Almighty God Committee. I was a member of the Five Percent Nation and my name was Positive Knowledge Allah, so the abbreviation was Positive K. This was my first official group – we looked good, man. We had a little cash at the time, we used to dress real well, we’d wear jewelry. We were like street kids at this time, we were all in the Five Percent Nation. We were on the scene, doing things. Mercury from the Force M.D.’s has got us on this show to perform, and we couldn’t get in there. Everyone was on the show – Sparky-D, Fearless Four, this guy from the area that we knew, because we were in Queens at the time, named Father Taheen. He was so big in the local area, ‘cos he was good on stage, man. He used to rap and sing. They wouldn’t let us get on this show, but we ran into Mercury in the bathroom and he said, “Let me see what I can do”. So he went and he talked to the people and got us in the show.
It was a rap contest. We were in there with leather outfits, we had this jewelry on – it was incredible! We got on stage and we did this little dance step intro. We had this DJ, he was this incredible DJ, but he didn’t know how to cut on the knobs! He knew the cross fader inside and out, but they had this big knob thing going on! He got so nervous working the knobs that he put the record on the wrong side. It was a breakbeat, we got into this routine, the girls were screaming, “Ahhh!”. We were looking good! It came time to do the song part, and the record came on and it was some kinda congos and horns and flutes! We were like, “Oh my god!” And the crowd was like, “Huh? Boooooo!” So the rest of the guys got off the stage, but I stayed on. The beat came on and I started rhyming, and everybody started doing the, “Go! Go! Go!” I redeemed myself, but the rest of the guys didn’t rap anymore. I kept on going.
What the names of the other members of the group?
One guy name was Truekwan, other guy name was Dameek. I think the other one’s name was Daquan. But they never did anything else with music.
How did you start working with Grand Puba?
My first manager cultivated the whole Positive K thing and got me kinda polished. His name was Lumumba Carson, you probably would know him as Professor X The Overseer from X-Clan. I was his first artist. We did some songs first, and my first real producer was Daddy-O from Stetsasonic. Daddy-O was the kinda guy who got me to the studio, got me to settle down, put my songs into form and taught me how to record in the studio. He got me polished and groomed me to be more of an entertainer. Then Lumumba Carson took me over to First Priority, I met Nat Robinson and he really liked everything Positive K was about and he signed me. Right about that time, that’s when Daddy-O and Stetsasonic really took off and they took me everywhere they went and got me affiliated with everybody that was hot at that point in time, so big shout to them for that, and Lumumba Carson – god bless his soul.
Through those travels I met Grand Puba and we were like joint at the hip ever since then. We were like brothers. The first song I did with First Priority didn’t really work out that good, it was a song called “Quarter Gram Pam”. A lot of people liked it, and I was working on something else at the time and I couldn’t get it right. Puba said, “‘Step Up Front’ is tight!” But there was bad production on it, so Puba came in and helped me put it together.
Was there a problem with nepotism at First Priority, since Audio Two and MC Lyte were related to the owner?
It was definitely favoritism. That’s why I subsequently left First Priority. With the help of Big Daddy Kane I was able to do my own thing independently, but I appreciate everything they did for me, it was a good start. It really helped when I did the independent thing, ‘cos I’d seen it from them. When I had my own studio, Giz came and worked with me after he left. He’s one of the top engineers in the business. My first record was on a compilation album called Fast Money – I was on the the A-side and Rob Base was on the B-side – so I was always in independent situations.
So you released “Nightshift” by yourself and then got a distribution deal with Island?
Through Island/Polygram, correct. One of my favorite songs, produced by Big Daddy Kane. Daddy-O taught me how to work in the studio, but Kane taught me how to work on stage. We went everywhere together, he took me on all shows and exposed me to his fanbase. Things took off for me after I started working with a major label, everything was kinda easy after that. Kane brought a lotta people in – he brought me, then he brought Jay-Z in, then he brought in Sauce Money. It was four of us – me, Kane, Jay-Z and Sauce Money. That was a mean team right there! Kane would bring us out in the middle of his show, and me and Jay would go into a little freestyle thing. That was always fun.
How did you meet Kane?
A friend of mine who manages M.O.P, Laz-E-Laze, him and Kane and Scoob [Lover] used to be roommates, so brought me around Kane. We were just acquaintances at first, but then we were doing a show in Philadelphia for Lady B at a club called After Midnight. There was a bus ride going up there, and Ultramagnetic were snapping on everybody! At that point they were really hot, “MC Ultra” was going crazy. A little battle jumped off on the bus – it was Kane and Kool Keith, it was me and Tim Dog and it was G Rap and Ced Gee. That’s when I first heard Kool Keith say, “Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up!” I was like, “Wow!” That was before it was on record. That’s when Kane first said, “Put a quarter in ya ass, cos you played yourself” And I was like, “Wow, that was crazy!” That’s when I first heard G Rap say, “My rhymes burn ya mouth like hot sauce”. The lisp was in full form and everything! After me and Tim Dog went at it, Kane was like, “Yo! You get in him!” Me and Kane was tight after that.
I thought your album had a nice mix of styles on there. How did that come together?
I love the album, there isn’t one song that you can say was like the other one. People got caught-up on “I Got A Man”, because it was so big that everybody thought that was all I did. Jazzy Jay was very instrumental in producing a lot of the songs, I never gave him enough credit for that.
What’s up with the version of “One 2 The Head” on the single with different music?
That was an accident. Jazzy Jay had put it into the MPC in sequence, and the BPM was out and it played it the whole thing totally different. He said, “That’s not it!” And I went, “Wait a minute…play that again!” I sat there listening to it, and I said, “I think I love this right here!” I had to rewrite my lyrics because it was a different beat.
Why were there two versions of the “Carhoppers” remix?
“I Got A Man” was so big I had to go in and do another guy/girl thing. The album was already out so I had to turn “Carhoppers” into “I Got A Man” simile.
What about the Grand Daddy I.U. feature?
I was always a fan of I.U. and I had heard him on a live performance at a club one night, and he was playing around doing some reggae chanting. I’m like, “I.U., you nasty with that!” He’s like, “I’m just playing, I don’t do that”. I go, “Yo, can you do me a favor?” [laughs] He came in the studio and we had a real fun night.
Silver D did some great beats on the LP too. How did you know him?
The whole The Hill That’s Real compilation was done in my studio, in Creative Control. Billy Danze wasn’t even down yet, it was just Lil’ Fame. Silver D was in the studio all the time so we did the “Nightshift” remix.
I read somewhere that you and Grand Puba recorded a follow-up to your duet from the Brand Nubian album. What happened to that?
We had another track and it never came out. I was so upset it never came out, because Island Records wanted me and Puba to do an album together. They wanted to send us to Jamaica so we could record an album together, way before Redman and Method Man were supposed to do it. We could just never get the numbers right to make it happen and to get that done. We had a song to follow that up that was supposed to be on a soundtrack – New Jersey Drive or something like that – we got it done, but I went on the road and Puba went on the road and it just never happened. It’s sitting around some place! It was a real nice record.
What was it called?
It was called “Back Together Again”, we used that Donnie Hathaway record. Wow, I’ve got to look for that! You’ve got me thinking about that now!
Did you begin on your second album back then?
I started doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, record promotions and things of that nature. I had two label situations – the Rush Associated Labels with Def Jam and I had something with London Records also. I was working on some groups and situations like that. Really got kinda disgusted with the business and didn’t want to mess with the music anymore. I got stressed out, went on the road and performed real hard for the next three or four years and then moved to LA and veged out for a minute. I broke a lotta groups, like Outkast. Matter of fact, first time Outkast was ever seen on Yo! MTV Raps was with me. Did Rampage for Busta Rhymes, did a lotta stuff for Puffy when Bad Boy was just starting up. I got burnt out with music, but now I’m back in love with it.
What are your best memories of Professor X?
He was the kinda guy that was like, “If we all can’t roll with this, then none of us are gonna do it”. He made us all come together. He had Just-Ice and he had King Sun, so he was like, “I manage the Gods!” He made everybody look out for each other. He was always about unity from day one.
The Latin Quarter must have been amazing in its prime.
The Latin Quarter was incredible, man. It was the hardest place to perform at. On top of the violence, you had the best time, but you had to do so many things at the Latin Quarter. You had people to avoid so many people! Me myself, I knew everybody in there and I wore jeweler, everything was cool. But they put on “Go Stetsa” and girls were getting their earrings snatched, guys were getting their chains snatched off their neck, getting beat-down and thrown out the club! It was one of those things. If you didn’t belong, you had to be on the air of caution. I watched some groups go up there and get booed! I remember when Kid ‘N Play got booed. When they first came out, they got booed, and it was bad booing, and I’ll never forget that! I think the Latin Quarter made them real good on stage, because they didn’t want to go through that again! [laughs]
Back when they were still Fresh Force?
I think so. I remember when Lumumba Carson said, “You’re performing next week”. I was like, “Oh my gosh! You’re kidding me!” I hadn’t even done “Step Up Front” yet, I was green. Wise from Stetsasonic did the beatbox for me and he got me over, I was thankful for that. [laughs] You definitely didn’t want to push the Latin Quarter too far. Once they gave it up for you, get out of there. It was a rough club, you had every thug in the world was in that club. They used to say when they went into the club, they was “going shopping”. I need a chain or I need a ring, or my girl needs some earrings. That’s what that was. It was a Brooklyn-based club, and you had the worst of the worst coming from Queens and the worst of the worst coming from Manhattan and all of Brooklyn in there, so there were many clashes.
What was Union Square like?
Latin Quarters more like a family thing, Union Square was really a “club” club. It was bigger than Latin Quarters, and it was the kind of place where as soon as you walked in you felt the energy. You just felt electricity when you walked in there, like, “It’s on right now!” That was really a rough club. It was straight electric.
What about The Rooftop?
There was the Rooftop, the Underground, the Zodiac, Roseland, Union Square and Latin Quarter were the clubs of the time.
Is that why you had to come correct on stage? Because of the tough crowds?
They would make you feel like a piece of crap if you wasn’t proper, man. At that point in time, it was word-of-mouth. If people started talking about, “Such and such was on stage, and he was terrible!” It would spread from borough to borough.
You described yourself as “the gentleman, the rapper, clean cut and dapper”. Was that a reflection of a conservative dress sense?
I wasn’t a gentleman! [laughs] I was far from a gentleman. I was very rowdy, I was really out of control. I was clean-cut, but “dapper” to me was jewellry and the flyest gear that out at that point in time. I always liked being fly.
If you had to make your own “Symphony” tomorrow, who would join you?
It would have to be me, Kane, LL and Rakim. That’s the dream team.
What separates The Bronx from the other boroughs?
It all came down to hustling and money. Manhattan was more of a money thing, so people from Manhattan talk more about cash and being flashy. Queens was just coming up on the hustle side and ended up making more money than all of the other boroughs, as far as the drug trade went, and Queens was known for having a lot of women, so guys from Queens were more slick with their talking and party-based. Brooklyn was always major for robbery. They say, “Manhattan makes it, Brooklyn takes it!” And that’s how it went down. Guy from Brooklyn were more grittier and their rhymes are more dark. The Bronx was more arrogant with their rhymes, ‘cos this is where rap started from, so things were more domineering in their rhymes. Everyone had their own dress style – a lotta guy in Queens wore Puma. In Manhattan, they wore Ballys. Brooklyn? They were more on the boot tip, hardcore and rugged.
Which three Positive K songs would you play to someone who had never heard you before?
I would play “Step Up Front”, “Good Combination” and “How The Fuck Would You Know”. The ladies records were always a plus for me because they were easy for me to do, but the rhyme stuff I always took time with and it was great. People don’t understand how incredible and raw those songs are. The ladies man stuff was just a little color to my style.
Anything else you want to add?
Me and Greg Nice have a new album coming out, we started a group called Great Minds. We got [DJ] Scratch, Vance Wright, [DJ] Premier, Greg did a bunch of stuff, Phat Kat from the Lower East Side, it’s incredible. Then I’ve got the solo Positive K project, Pos K In The Extreme album.
“Step Up Front”
“Ain’t No Crime”
“Grand Puba, Positive & LG” feat. Grand Puba
“One 2 Da Head” [Original 12″ Version]
“Impulse On Three” feat. Barsha
“Good Combination” [Kan Kick Remix]
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