Filed under: Features,Harlem Nights,Interviews,Rap Veterans,The 80's Files
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Thanks to Will and Aaron from Tuff City records, I had the chance to speak to pioneering Harlem rapper Spoonie Gee last week, who set the standard for street tales and slick talk on his earlier work for Enjoy and Sugarhill before he enjoyed a late 80’s comeback with Marley Marl and Teddy Riley providing the cutting edge beats. After enduring some rocky times for most of the 90’s, he’s currently in the process of recording one last project before he retires from music for good.
Robbie: Being from Harlem, in the early days before records, did you have to travel to see shows?
Spoonie Gee: I went to The Bronx, that’s the first place I saw Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. First time I seen him, I think it was P.A.L on Webster Avenue. I used to go see the Funky 4 + 1, Fantastic Five.
How had you heard about them?
I heard a tape of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four MC’s at the time, this was before Raheim joined them.
What the atmosphere like?
We had fun! It wasn’t no shoot-outs or nothing like that. Once in a while, a fight broke out. Back in the days we did it for the love of hip-hop, we didn’t do it for the money.
At what stage did you start rhyming yourself?
Once I heard Hollywood. I was what you called a poet, I used to write poetry. Once this rap thing came along…I always wanted to sing – I couldn’t sing – so that was the closest thing I’d come to singing.
Once you started rapping, were you making tapes or just performing?
The original Treacherous Three is me, Kool Moe Dee and LA Sunshine. LA and Moe was rapping already, and then I started rapping so we formed the Treacherous Three.
How did you meet them?
I met them through DJ Easy Lee, who was my girlfriends brother.
This is before Special K was involved?
What happened was I broke off and made a solo record, and then Special K, I put him in my spot. Then it became Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three.
Did you ever used to battle other crews when you were in the Treacherous Three?
No, no, no, no. I wasn’t into battling. That wasn’t my thing. I was just into making money, that was it. Nobody wanted to battle me and I ain’t ask to battle nobody. I was too busy having fun. I was not to make no enemies.
How did you get the deal with Sound of New York for “Spoonin’ Rap”?
Peter Brown came into my uncle’s record shop, my brother was working there at the time., and he told my brother, “I need a rapper.” He said, “Yeah, my brother’s a rapper!” So he called me downstairs to say something for him, so I rhymed for him and then he said, “You want to go to the studio?” Went in the studio the next day and the rest is history.
How do you feel about the “Love Rap” beat becoming a classic breakbeat now?
That was the second record I made. That was on my uncle Bobby Robinson’s label, Enjoy. Bobby Robinson my uncle by marriage, he’s married to my mother’s sister. I actually lived with him after my mother died.
How did things change once you put records out?
I was very popular – a lotta women, a lotta money. Partying. It was nice, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the popularity and I enjoyed the money. The ‘fortune and fame’ as you call it.
How did “The New Rap Language” come together?
That was Kool Moe Dee’s idea. I just wrote the rhyme. Kool Moe Dee invented fast rapping.
Why did you leave Enjoy?
It was time to move on. We had no contract, it was a one record deal.
You must have gotten a lot of shows once the records came out?
I started doing a lotta shows and I got to meet a lotta MC’s. I actually was on tour with Heavy D in Europe one time.
Around the time you started working with Teddy Riley?
Yeah, ‘87. I also was on tour with the Juice Crew – Marley Marl, MC Shan. That was in the early 80’s.
What was your best memory from those tours?
The European tour I liked, cos I was coming from one part of Europe and Heavy D was coming from another part, and we met in London or Amsterdam, one of the two. We met in the middle. Anyway, we had fun. I wanna go back to Europe and do another tour. That was my first time, I haven’t been back since. It was very new to me, I love the European language, I love the way they talk. The women from London and England – I love the way they talk.
You’ve been with a lot of record label over the years. How was Sugarhill records?
Sugarhill? I can’t really say they treated me bad, they just didn’t have time for me. They were very busy, that’s why I left the company. When I came along they were too busy for me, so I signed the release. I did a deal with them, I did a song called “Survival,” which is the flip side of “The Message,” so they let me go.
Then you went to Tuff City.
I made a lotta records on Tuff City. That’s where I made “Take It Off,” “The Godfather,” “Big Beat,” “That’s My Style,” “I’m All Shook Up.” I made the Godfather of Rap album on Tuff City!
What was the story behind “Street Girl”?
“Street Girl” was actually about a girl that I knew, and I used to see her every day of the week. I knew her personally and I would talk to her. I would ask her about how she got like that, and she would tell me. I would go to different clubs and see her. She liked hangin’ in the streets, she liked going to clubs, she liked sniffing cocaine. That just was her thing. That’s why I called her Street Girl and I wrote a record about her.
Was that a similar situation with “Hitman”?
Hitman was another person who I knew, he was a friend of mine and he actually did hits for a living. I thought he was drug seller when I first met him, cos of the money that he had. I used to see him on the avenue and he also had a club. He actually went out of town – he did hits. He killed people for a living. He was friend of mine, and one day I was with him and somebody told me, “Do you know what he does for a living?” I said, “Yeah, he owns a club.” “No, he’s a hitman! He kills people for a living, Spoonie! That’s what he does.” [laughs] I kinda shyed off from him. He’s dead now, but he was a good friend of mine. He was OK with me.
What about “You Ain’t Just A Fool, You’re An Old Fool?”
That was about an old man I knew that liked young girls, and I wrote about him, that’s all.
You also had that record “That’s My Style” on Tuff City.
Schoolly-D. I was talkin’ to Schoolly-D. As far as I’m concerned, his style was my style. There wouldn’t have been no Schoolly-D if it wasn’t for Spoonie Gee. A lotta people thought he was me, it was crazy.
Did you ever meet him?
We did a show together. He was OK, after we met each other, things alright. We didn’t have a fight or anything like that.
Did he admit to being a fan?
Yeah, he admit he was a fan of mine. It was OK.
How did you meet Teddy Riley?
I’m from Harlem! Teddy Riley was working with Moe Dee at the time and we knew each other. Aaron asked him, “Would you work with Spoonie?” He said, “Yeah.” He lived in Apt. 1F in the St. Nicholas projects, I would go over and we’d make tracks. The rest is history.
Same deal for Marley Marl?
Aaron went to Marley and asked him to work with me, kinda the same thing.
How was it working with Aaron Fuchs?
We always had a good relationship.
A lot of people have sampled your voice over the years…
I get paid for that, thank god. My uncle Bobby Robinson, god bless the dead, he’s the one who taught me about the music business.
What’s your routine for writing rhymes?
Sometimes I write every day, sometimes every other day. Depending on how I feel.
You last released an EP in 2003. Can you tell me a bit about that?
The Boss Is Back? That was some old stuff that I made on my own. I just had it lying around so I thought I might as well put it out. It didn’t sell much, but I just put it out there.
A lot of Harlem MC’s are known to be sharp dressers. Did you always make sure you were looking sharp when you performed?
Yeah, I was a good dresser. I’ve always been a sharp dresser. I like to look nice.
Do you feel that other Harlem MC’s such as Cam’Ron have kept up the legacy?
I’ve never met Cam’Ron. I have a lotta respect for him, and I like him. I’ve never met him before though. I like Jim Jones. I’m still waiting to meet these guys.
Do you listen to much new rap?
I like Jay-Z, I like Eminem. Nas. A few of ‘em I like.
What was it working with Sequence?
Angie Stone, she’s my buddy! I’m trying to get her to sing on one of my records also.
“Monster Jam” was a great record.
That was another nice time, but like I said Sugarhill was too busy for me. They didn’t have time for me.
What happened after your last album?
I’ll be honest with you – I had personal problems and I did some prison time. I got locked up a few times. Most of the nineties, I was in prison. From ‘94-’98 I was in prison, so most of the 90’s the reason you didn’t see me was I was in prison.
Were you still writing?
I was writing, but I wasn’t really doing anything. I went back to prison in 2003 and I stayed until 2006 on a gun possession. I haven’t been back since. I’m out now and ain’t never going back.
What three songs would you play to someone who didn’t know your music?
“Spoonin’ Rap,” “Love Rap,” “Take It Off” and “The Godfather.” I’d play them four songs. And I also would tell them if you have a goal, don’t let nobody deter you from your goal. Stay focused and just go forward, and don’t never let your dream die. Just keep at it. You’ve gotta be persistent and keep at your dream. Every day when you get up in the morning you’ve gotta do something towards your goal, and I guarantee that you’ll reach it sooner or later.
What would you consider the highlight of your career?
Once I made “The Godfather” and “Take It Off” that was really it. I hadn’t done nothing for years, but once I did “Take It Off” and “The Godfather” my career just shot off. All the shows I did off of “The Godfather” and “Take It Off,” that was really my time. Whether it was overseas or in the United States, I really enjoyed that time. I’m actually in the studio right now.
You’re recording new stuff?
New material, yeah. One more time, give it one more shot.
Do you have a name for the album?
I can’t reveal that, it’s a secret!
Who are you working with on that?
I’m working with Rich Nice’s brother, Big Frenchie. Rich Nice is one of the Trackmasterz. Marley Marl is supposed to do a track with me as well. I’m even trying to get Easy Moe Bee to work with me, so it’s gonna be some nice stuff.
Have you heard about that guy in Florida who is claiming to be you?
I know all about him. I hate him. I’m trying to get a show in Miami so I can really expose him and bring him on stage. I’m working on that now. I’m going down there to meet this guy and expose him and ask him, ‘Why are you telling people that you’re Gabriel Jackson? That you’re actually Spoonie Gee? Why are you doing that?’ I’ve gotta ask him why he’s doing that.
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