Non-Rapper Dudes: DJ Pizzo Interview [HipHopSite.com]
I did some work with DJ Pizzo this year over at Cuepoint, but previous to that I’d been a loyal customer of the main mail-order hip-hop stores, one of which was HipHopSite, which was founded by Pizzo and Warren Peace in 1996. He explained how the wild west that was the early internet allowed their new business to thrive and help introduce the world to a range of underground groups, as well as their involvement with classic remix projects such as The Grey Album and God’s Stepson. Ironically, the very same lawlessness that had helped the independent rap scene flourish during this period would ultimately become it’s very undoing.
Robbie: How did you get started as a rap fan?
DJ Pizzo: I got into hip-hop watching Yo! MTV Raps when I was a sixth grader. Then I found this college show, when I was in eighth grade, called Word Up. It was on KUNV at UNLV and this guy Warren Peace was the host. He was a freshman in college at the time and I was a kid in junior high, and he would be playing the b-side of the remix of the new Big Daddy Kane single that wasn’t out yet. It opened up a whole new [world] – because of the show, I was hearing all this music that was promo-only. Warren was judging some local talent show, so I went down there and met him. He told me I could come hang out at the show. I was the youngest person there, everybody else was in college, and I was always digging through his records and recording stuff to tape.
Around ’94/’95 I was posting on rec.music.hip-hop. I started trading tapes with kids over the internet, which was sending cassettes of unreleased music to each other through the mail before there was file sharing. There was a kid who had an advance of De La Soul‘s Stakes Is High album, and another kid who had the Wu-Tang Clan demo tape, and another kid who had the Gravediggaz demo tape. All of a sudden I had all this unreleased music that Warren didn’t have, so I started playing those tracks on his show. Then he had the idea, ‘What if we started a website where we can post this unreleased music?’
Ayatollah – The Unkut Interview
Queens-born producer Ayatollah has laced tracks for everyone from Tragedy to Screwball to Mos Def to Cormega. We caught-up last week to discuss his early days on the come-up, auditioning beat tapes at Rawkus Records and a random Happy Days connection. His latest project, Box Cutter Brothers 3, is out now with Drasar Monumental.
Robbie: What was your inspiration to make music?
Ayatollah: My older brother. When I was younger he used to take care of me, and he was a b-boy. He was like my super hero. He listened to a lot of hip-hop, breakdancing and things like that. I admired him, he had a major influence on me – the way he dressed, the music he listened to – I just thought he was really cool. He would wear the sheepskins and the suede Pumas and Kangols. At school I was always into art, so after going to junior high school I got into the whole graffiti thing. Graffiti had a big influence on me making music.
After the graffiti I got into the DJing. I started DJing from ’89. I bought turntables, I started collecting records [and] I started doing parties. I started battling other DJ’s, competition-wise. When I met Jam-Master Jay, rest in peace, was quite a major point in my life. Getting to ask him questions about DJing and Run-DMC – he actually took the time out to answer my questions. I met him at random in Queens, on 165th Street and Jamaica Avenue. It’s a huge shopping area for a lotta people on Queens. There came a point in my DJing career where I was like, ‘I don’t just want to play the records anymore, I wanna actually produce the records.’
Afrika Islam – The Unkut Interview
Rising up through the ranks from the ‘Son of Bambattaa’ to the DJ at The Roxy and launching the Zulu Beat radio show on WHBI, Afrika Islam went on to release the very fist cut and paste record, help found the Rhyme Syndicate and produce the majority of Ice-T’s first four albums after moving to LA in what has certainly been an action-packed career. He took a little time out to reminisce before he headed over to Ice’s house to watch the latest episode of SVU.
Robbie: How did you first get exposed to the culture?
Afrika Islam: I was a member of the Zulu King b-boys, under Afrika Bambaataa. That’s how I came into the culture, from the floor up. Being a member of the Zulu Kings I went out to battle other b-boy crews across the city, representing the Zulu Nation. From there, my second step was becoming a Zulu Nation DJ – the first line – which would have been myself and Jazzy Jay and Red Alert and DXT. I was under Afrika Bambaataa – we all were – but I was very close to Afrika Bambaataa. Then I got named ‘The Son of Bambaataa’ because I was always under him and his teachings and what was going on in the Zulu Nation at the same time in hip-hop. That’s my roots of hip-hop – I was there as a DJ.
There must have been a lot of competition to make it into that first line of Zulu DJs?
My technique I took from those that were creating the techniques – Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore. That’s primarily where the technique we used came from, but being that I was with Afrika Bambaataa the main thing was learning all those records, because he was definitely the ‘Master of Records.’ Learning all those records was honestly what everything was about. Having all those records, the repertoire, most of these other DJs only had the ability to….even though they were technically incredible and the pioneers of what modern-day DJing is – Flash and Theodore – the repertoire of the records was the soundtrack to New York City. That was the soundtrack to hip-hop.
Donald D – The Unkut Interview
Microphone King Donald D has had a long and varied career, spanning back to the park jam era, onto the downtown club scene, radio and then records, both as a member of The B-Boys and as a soloist with the Rhyme Syndicate. Now residing in Italy, Donald took some time out to detail some of his experiences during the formative days of the culture.
Robbie: How were you first introduced to hip-hop?
Donald D: Going to the parties, watching Kool Herc in the parks and Afrika Bambaataa in the parks. That was my first experience seeing these DJs out in the park.
You were living in the Bronx at the time?
Kool Herc used to play at a park called 129, which is not far from where I lived. Then I would go to Bronx River Center and watch Afrika Bambaataa throw down outside. All of this took place in the South Bronx, where it all started.
How old were you at that time?
You’re talking about junior high school when I was seeing these guys play. At the time we was going to a local place all the kids would call The Boy’s Club. We would go there basically to play basketball, swim. I had other friends who would become hip-hop legends and superstars, so you’re talking about at that time Easy AD, who became a member of the Cold Crush Brothers; you had Lil’ Rodney Cee and Jazzy Jeff who were part of the Funky Four; you had Master Rob and Waterbed Kev who became part of the Fantastic Five. There were a lot of these guys who were at the time unknown who became legends in hip-hop. We all would be playing basketball together as kids [chuckles].
Pretty Tone Capone [Mob Style] – The Unkut Interview
Pretty Tone Capone in the studio with Real Live, 2004. Photo: richdirection
The infamous Pretty Tone Capone from Harlem’s Mob Style is about to return to the rap game. While I haven’t heard his new material yet, his work with the group and as a soloist has given us some of the most authentic street rap possible, as well as some amusing N.W.A. diss records. Tone discussed how he was born into the hustling lifestyle in Harlem, why Tim Dog almost got scalped and explains how drug dealers are the trend-setters that rappers want to be.
Robbie: What can you tell me about growing up in Harlem?
Pretty Tone Capone: Harlem was all about money. Hustlers and stick-up kids – everybody else was workers and people in the way. Young kids getting a lotta money – doing whatever we wanted to do, where ever we wanted to do it at – at whoevers expense. It was wild like that back then. Rapping was something we did for fun, after it took off, ‘cos the public liked it. We were the only – the only – cats that were in the studio having fun rapping. There were many real cats out here, but they wasn’t rapping.
How old were you when you got involved with the street life?
I was born into this here, man. I’m from a long line of gangsters. I’m from the hustling tree of Harlem, which is from the hustling tree of the world. Family members and all that, I was raised among them. I didn’t have to go that route, but I chose that route. I’m also very intelligent – I coulda been [a] top Goldman Sachs official or one of them [top] 500 company running guys. More or less I chose this life and I love every minute of it, regardless of the down pits and downfalls.
Non-Rapper Dudes: Tom Silverman Interview [Tommy Boy/NMS]
Here’s the complete transcript of my talk with Tom Silverman, who created the Dance Music Report and Tommy Boy Records in addition to co-founding the New Music Seminar, home of the MC and DJ Battle for World Supremacy. There’s a lot that I couldn’t fit into the NMS oral history piece from last month, so I thought it was worth printing in full seeing as though it paints an interesting picture of the
Robbie: What was your first exposure to hip-hop?
Tom Silverman: I went to the T-Connection to hear Bambaataa thing after learning about breakbeats in 1980, healing about this whole breakbeat phenomenon/b-boy concept in 1980 and wanted to find out about it. I called up Bambaataa and went to see him at T-Connection in the Bronx, and that’s how I first heard him and Red Alert and Jazzy Jay spinning the most amazing variety of music in a way that I’d never heard before. I just asked him if he wanted to make a record and that was kind of the beginning of Tommy Boy, when he said yes. To hear Kraftwerk and Billy Squier and Bob James and Cerone and The Monkees mixed in with normal James Brown and Sly Stone and all of this funk music was the thing that was the real revelation. And then to see how they cut it up and extended beats and found breaks and turned them into something more was just crazy at the time. Imagine seeing that in 1980 when no one had ever experienced it before? It’s like fire! ‘We’ve never seen fire before. What is that?’
When did the NMS begin?
The commencement was 1980, it was a one day event that year. In 1981 we did it in a club venue and it became a two-day event. The place was called Privates, and for the first time we did an event, it was called ‘a DJ spinning exhibition’ where we showed people what was happening in 1981 with spinning. We had a guy called Jeff Broitman, who was a disco DJ, showing how DJ’s mix records in a normal club situation. Then we had a guy called Whiz Kid – who later made records for us at Tommy Boy – who was a quick-cut DJ from the Afrika Bambaataa school of the Zulu Nation. He was from the Bronx and he was one of the greatest masters of fast spinning. It was a DJ’s exhibition to show how they did it, and people were just blown away. Nobody had seen people cutting two bars back and forth between records before. Everybody started talking about it, the room was packed to the gills and people were so excited about seeing it.
Street Life – The Unkut Interview
According to his MySpace caption, those are not Street Life’s boots.
Method Man‘s loyal right-hand man and road dawg Street Life talked about growing up in Staten Island, makes it clear that he wasn’t feeling the last Wu-Tang album and hints that this might be the second last solo album from Tical. The Meth Lab is out 21 August.
Robbie: Did you grow up in Staten Island?
Street Life: Yeah I grew up in Staten Island, Park Hill and Stapleton.
How would you describe Stapleton when you were a kid?
There wasn’t that many guns out, it was just more fights and maybe a couple of stabbings. That was better than gunshots though. I was around twelve years old when I was in Stapleton, it was cool. Stapleton was my introduction into Staten Island, then I moved to Park Hill. I got most of my experience by growing-up in Park Hill versus Stapleton – Park Hill’s where all the drama unfolded at. That’s where the legend was born!
Devin The Dude – The Unkut Interview
I kicked it with Devin The Dude about how he came up in the rap game while somehow neglecting any direct questions about getting high. With a discography that stretches back to 1994 and a discography that features an impressive roster of big names including Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Scarface and Nas, Devin has seen it all. We caught up over the phone to discuss his days as a breakdancer, the dangers of touring and his dream posse cut line-up.
Robbie: How did you first get into rap?
Devin The Dude: I was a breakdancer since the fifth grade. Towards the late 80’s, breakdancing was getting commercialised a little bit so we didn’t do that quite as much, but we would still be at the park where we used to breakdance. I used to collect a lotta music too, especially with the breakdancing and having a lotta routines and stuff, and I eventually bridged over to rapping at the park.
What was your crew called?
I was in a number of breakdancing crews as we moved around. I lived in Houston and I moved to East Texas in tenth through twelfth grade and then I moved back to Houston. The Rhythmic Rockers was my last breakdancing crew, but I had a crew with my brother and another guy – we called ourselves 3-D.
Breakbeat Lou – The Unkut Interview
Here’s the full version of my Breakbeat Lou interview, some of which was used in my Ultimate Breaks and Beats: An Oral History feature.
Robbie: How did you meet Lenny Roberts?
Breakbeat Lou: Lenny I’d met at Saul’s Record Pool, back in the early 80’s. There was a feedback committee meeting that we had and everyone was talking about regular rap records and regular music. That wasn’t what he was really into, he was more or a less a ‘in the house’ kinda DJ. There was a comment about a particular record and I said, ‘Yeah, I know that record.’ He said, ‘How do you know that record? You don’t seem like you’re into that particular thing.’ I was already DJing regular stuff. I’ve been in the game a long time – a DJ since ’74, hardcore digger since ’78, producer since ’80. That’s where the connection with breakbeats came in between him and I. He was already involved in going to the jams, ‘cos Lenny used to hang out at Bronx River. First it was bootleg 12’s that were being released – we released ‘Big Beat’, before that was ‘Funky President’ and ‘Long Red’ on Sure Shot Records. We also released the guava ‘Apache’ copies, ‘Chinese Chicken,’ ‘Impeach The President,’ the [Magic Disco Machine’s] ‘Scratchin” one sided 12’, the ‘Rocket In The Pocket.’
Psycho Les [The Beatnuts] – The Unkut Interview
Following on from last year’s interview with former Beatnut Al’ Tariq, I finally got a chance to speak with Psycho Les about the ups and downs of one of rap’s greatest groups. Turns out that Les’ history foes back even further than I thought, as he revealed he worked at Music Factory during high school and produced his first record in 1988…
Robbie: Do you feel like Al’ Tariq’s comments about his time with the Beatnuts were accurate?
Psycho Les: It was pretty much right. Me and Al’ Tariq never had a problem. The problem was between Juju and him, they didn’t really get along. When people don’t get along shit ain’t gonna happen.
He mentioned some subliminal stuff between him and Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul?
There was subliminal shit going on but it was more on Juju and Fashion’s part. That had nothing to do with me, I always stay away from any negative shit. I ain’t out to diss nobody.
What made you want to get involved in hip-hop?
Just being a kid from the streets. When I was coming up in mid ’80s the streets was the only place you could find hip-hop. You would go to the parks and we would have the cardboards, people breakdancing and the guy with his boom box playing tapes of Cold Crush and Spoonie Gee and Kool Moe Dee and all that shit. I was into everything of the culture, man – from breaking to graffiti, I did it all. I just fell in love with the music, just watching the DJ and all the power he had. I started messing with all the DJ’s that lived in my building. I would go to their apartments and watch them DJ. From there I developed the whole dream to have turntables and mixers and collecting records.
Toney Rome – The Unkut Interview
Toney Rome and Large Professor go way back, and share a lot more history than simply a production credit on the b-side of ‘Mad Scientist.’ Toney talks about growing up in Flushing, Queens, facing music industry hurdles and memories of having the hottest tape in school.
Robbie: How did you first get involved in hip-hop?
I grew-up in New York in the 70s and the 80s, when hip-hop was just getting started. I can remember before there were records, used to be chasing tapes, trying to find the hottest tapes and also trying to get to the Bronx to hear the music.
You were in Flushing at the time?
From Flushing, Queens. It was a really organic thing. I was hearing the music out here on the streets, then they started doing jams out here and eventually I started deejaying.
Where were you getting your records? From the city or locally?
It was the era where DJ’s was really secretive about the breaks that they had. Some of the stuff you would know, but you would have to be a sleuth like Sherlock Holmes to figure out what breaks. First you raided your father’s record collection, and you found the old funk and soul records from there. Of course I didn’t have a lotta money back then, so I used to go to stores in Jamaica, Queens and places that I knew out there that had record shops.
Guru – The Modern Fix Interview
Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted by Bill Zimmerman in 2007 for the now defunct print edition of Modern Fix magazine prior to the release of Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger. This Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Guru’s passing.
On April 19, 2010, the rapper born Keith Elam died of complications from cancer at 48. Hip-hop lost one of its Golden Era notables. What remained were questions about Guru’s association with Solar, his late-career producer and business partner in the label 7 Grand, whose motives were questioned by the rapper’s family and former collaborators. Shortly after Guru’s death, Solar released a letter purportedly written by Guru and critical of Premier. Guru’s family labeled it a fake; Solar defended the letter as “what Guru wanted.”
The self-proclaimed “king of monotone,” Guru possessed one of the most unmistakable voices in hip-hop. Honest and authoritative, he delivered music over three decades, most notably in Gang Starr with DJ Premier as well as through genre-bending Jazzmatazz solo efforts. What follows are excerpts from an unpublished interview with Guru and Solar in 2007. It’s a snapshot of Guru’s late 2000s, post-Gang Starr career. It shows two men focused on making their own lane and taking creative chances in the leadup to what would be Guru’s final Jazzmatazz project. Despite all the drama and confusion that would ensue, Guru made a mark on hip-hop. That’s indisputable.
Bill: Guru, one the previous Jazzmatazz projects you were working with multiple producers. What was it like just sticking with Solar on this one?
Guru: Actually, the only one with multiple producers was the third one (Street Soul). The first one (Vol. 1) I produced, the second one (Vol. 2: The New Reality) I produced and then the third one multiple (producers). Actually, after the third one I said I wanted to go back to working with just one producer because I left like the third one – even though I had like a lot of big name producers – it came out more like a compilation than it did an organic work. It’s still one of my favorites joints, but it was something about the cohesiveness of one producer bringing everything together. After teaming up with Solar – first of all when I first started hearing his music that was after we were friends already for two years. Then we decided to do the label. We were introduced six years ago – he took me to his lab so I could hear some tracks, and it was crazy because it was almost like he read my mind because I was looking for a future sound, a new sound for myself. All my favorite artists are able to do that – to recreate and renew and then reinvent. So, when I heard his tracks, I was like, “Oh, man.” I was blown away and actually took some stuff home right then. Our first release came out in 2005 on 7 Grand. That was called Guru Version 7.0 The Street Scriptures, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. That was just the introduction to this new chemistry. Now, at this point, the chemistry is just more intense, so this album is definitely proof of that.
Black Rob – The Unkut Interview, Volume Two
Back in 2013, I got to chat to Black Rob for ten minutes as he was on his way to the studio. This time around I tried not to repeat the same questions, but unfortunately I caught him as he was trying to catch some food. Guess some things just aren’t meant to work out, huh? Regardless, you can catch Black Rob’s new LP, Genuine Article, is out 21 April.
Robbie: Were Spoonie Gee and Doug E. Fresh a big influence on you when you were a kid?
Black Rob: Hell yeah! Parties, break-outs – the whole shit! Doug E. Fresh was definitely slamming, man. I already wanted to my thing, but it gave me some inspiration to tbe best that I could be.
What was it like growing in Harlem?
It was different, man. A lotta kids was doing what they had to do, playing around and not doing music, so I came in there doing music. I used to have the parties jumping, little freestyles and all that stuff. Hear that shit out the window. I used to be the number one guy, but I was too young to really comprehend what I was going through, cos I was just stretching out. But I was nice though! [laughs]
Chill Rob G – The Unkut Interview, Volume Two
While I was staying in New Jersey mid 2013, I attempted to shoot some footage of the original Flavor Unit crew. As it happened, I only managed to get Chill Rob G on film, and after watching the video back I’ve decided that this plays better as a written piece. While some of the same stuff from our 2006 conversation is covered, Rob also went into a lot more detail on some topics, making it a worthwhile piece on it’s own. Not to mention that Ride The Rhythm still stands as one of the strongest and most original releases of 1989.
Robbie: You mentioned that you went through a few different names when you were younger?
Chill Rob G: When I first started I had an identity crisis, I had a bunch of different names. It was Jazzy B, it was Bobby G, it was Killer B – cos my name was Robert. I was down with a couple of different crews too. I was down with The World Rap Crew and I was down with the Dignified Almighty Magnificent MC’s – Those D.A.M. MC’s. When all of that fell apart I just kept rapping on my own. I used to practice with my man Michael Ali, be up at his house every single day, making tapes. When I said that on the record it was true!
Were these beats that he’d made?
He tried to make beats but they was [blows raspberry]. I would just rap over popular rap records. He would try to cut the break. He wasn’t really that good a DJ either – but that was my man back then. [laughs] We would make tapes and try to get it out to the drug dealers, cos they’d be out all night. They would play that music and people would get a chance to hear me rap.
Ultimate Breaks and Beats: An Oral History
This one has been cooking up for long time now, but it’s finally out of the oven and ready to throw on your plate with a side of mash – the history of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series told by the people who put them together and some of the DJ’s and producers they went on to influence:
Ultimate Breaks and Beats: An Oral History
Shout out to Shecky Green and the design team at Cuepoint for turning it into a multimedia masterpiece and whatnot.
Phill Most Chill aka Soulman – The Unkut Interview
Phill Most Chill came up drawing flyers for local crews before dropping his own independent record in 1988, moving into some production work and eventually landing a regular spot at Rap Sheet. From there he became a record dealer and collector, released over 100 mixtapes and eventually returned to the microphone in 2005, and has since released a number of new projects. I caught up with Soulman to talk records, journalism and more records…
Robbie: How did you first get exposed to hip-hop?
Phill Most Chill: I go back as a little kid, cos I grew up right outside of New York, like a half an hour away from the Bronx in Connecticut. I go back to before when hip-hop was even on record yet, it was just parties. I’d see all the classic crews from back in the days – the Furious Five, Cold Crush Brothers – all of ’em, they would rock at the community center or roller skating rink or high schools in my neighborhood. I started out as a fan but also I used to do flyers for some of the hip-hop pioneers back in those days. From there I went to making records myself – little, small indy records – and that led to the thing with Rap Sheet. During that time I also got into production and I went all out with collecting breaks and digging for records to the point where I would consider myself one of the leading people as far as digging in the crates. I used to also sell breaks and records to all the top producers in New York City. They used to have the Roosevelt Hotel record conventions. That came from me doing the ‘World of Beats’ column – at that point I felt I needed to really up my game and go all-out with the records. That led to me becoming a dealer as well, because a lot of the breaks people were looking for? I had ’em and I knew how to get ’em. Pretty much every great producer in the New York area back then? I sold records to. The only dude I didn’t see at the shows was Preemo.
DJ JS-1 – The Unkut Interview
Rocksteady member DJ JS-1 has been putting it down in the DJ, mixtape and production game for years, as well as getting busy with the paint as JERMS since his school days. We caught up last November to discuss the sorry state of modern rap, the trials of making compilation albums and tips copping vinyl on the sly.
Robbie: How did it start for you?
DJ JS-1: Growing up in Queens, New York – I was born in the mid 70’s – so by the time I was old enough to look around and know what’s going on, you’re six, seven, eight years old. It’s early 80’s and hip-hop culture was everywhere. My grandmother lived near Lefrak and I first remember them doing a mural on the side of pizzaria there when I was really young. I always loved to draw, and I got into graff from watching these guys do that. By third or fourth grade I was trying to draw my name and do stuff, and in sixth grade we stole some spray paint and went to the schoolyard to try and write our names. That was 1986. I was always listening to hip-hop and started buying vinyl as soon as I was old enough to get on the bus or the train by myself to get to the record stores. Then I saved up to get turntables.
O.C. – The Unkut Interview
Working through my list of D.I.T.C. members to interview (only Fat Joe, Buckwild and O.Gee remaining), I got to talk shop with O.C. recently to ask the question that’s been burning my soul slow since 1994 – why didn’t he use that Rakim sample on ‘Time’s Up’!?
O.C. – The Unkut Interview
DJ Too Tuff – Part Time Rap Star, Full Time Drug Dealer
My second piece for Cuepoint tells the story of DJ Too Tuff‘s life after Tuff Crew as he turned to the drug trade to survive, and barely made it out alive.
DJ Too Tuff – Part Time Rap Star, Full Time Drug Dealer
CJ Moore [Black By Demand] – The Unkut Interview, Part Three
Concluding the three part interview with Black By Demand front man CJ Moore, he covers working with Paul C, Ultramagnetic MC’s and Super Lover Cee, the importance of engineering and chopping, getting ripped off on the ‘Rump Shaker’ single and his deep crates of unreleased material.
Robbie: What was your involvement with Super Lover Cee and Cassanova Rudd?
Super Lover Cee lived in the building behind mine. He has a group called Future Four MC’s, which was Super Lover Cee, myself, DJ Rudd and there was another DJ named Tiny Tim. We did shows around the neighbourhoods and then we disbanded. I was the guy doing the beats and the choruses and putting the track together. When I did ‘All Rapper’s Give Up,’ I had not gotten a deal just yet. He was hanging out of his window, cos he lived on the first floor, he was playing some stuff and he said, ‘Yo C, listen to this!’ I’m standing by his window and I said, ‘Let’s put it together.’ He wound up putting it together and I wound up tightening it up. When I brought him to the studio to do the session and introduced him to Paul and Mick, Paul C. didn’t want to do the session. He couldn’t hear it, he didn’t see anything pleasurable about it. He wound up doing it. As far as the entirety of the project, when he did their album Girls I Got ‘Em Locked, I did not do any of those records. But a lotta those routines we had in the Future Four? He wound up using them.
CJ Moore [Black By Demand] – The Unkut Interview, Part Two
Engineer all-star CJ Moore delves into the behind the scenes events of Kool G Rap‘s Roots of Evil and the infamous Rawkus album, heading out west, working with the Live Squad and much more in the second part of this interview trilogy.
Robbie: What happened after the Akinyele sessions finished?
CJ Moore: When money started coming into play between Dr. Butcher and myself, things started getting funny. I went out to California and I teamed-up with Ed Strickland again and we was with a guy doing a project called The Reality Check – a guy named Michael Harris – Harry O. He’s the guy who funded Death Row Records. Ice Cube, Ice-T, Dub C, all those guys were involved. I produced a couple of records with Ice-T with me and him rapping back and forth. I was doing the east coast stuff, Battlecat was doing the west coast stuff. I went to Big Daddy Kane, talked to him on the phone, I said, ‘I need you to be out in California. I’m doing this project, it’s kinda merging the east coast with the west coast. Let’s talk about what it’s gonna take to get you on the project.’ He asked me who was on the project, and I explained to him. There was guy named Black Ceasar on the project, he was from Pittsburgh, real talented guy, but Kane had a problem because his name was Black Ceasar. I said, ‘But your name is Big Daddy Kane!’ ‘Yeah, aka Black Ceasar.’ I said, ‘What kind of bullshit is that?’ He couldn’t do the project because of that. I stepped to Method Man and I was trying to get to Redman and everyone was kinda busy, so the east coast/west coast thing never did the proper merge. There was so much money on the table, more than these guys have ever made. For some reason it just backed-out. I guess the whole Harry O thing might have scared people to a degree, if you know the homework on the whole Death Row situation. But we can’t get into that.
CJ Moore [Black By Demand] – The Unkut Interview, Part One
CJ Moore has been at ground zero for more classic hip-hop records that most of us can either count, through his work as an engineer at 1212 during the Paul C. era, with his group Black By Demand and with his work for Akinyele and Kool G Rap to name a few. After chopping it with CJ for three hours, there’s a lot of material to get through and a lot of behind the scenes stories to drop, so let’s begin with how it all got started.
Robbie: When did you first get involved with music?
CJ Moore: About 83, 84. My brothers had a DJ group, and I was just a guy around the group. They were into the deejaying aspect of it and I was into the rapping aspect of it. I started getting into the technical side of it around 84, 85. My mom had bought me a little portable piano and I started making my little compositions from that point. That stemmed into me being the guy who understood a lot of the technical ins and outs as far as equipment was concerned, and I took it from there.
You didn’t study engineering formally?
I just picked it up as I went along. It was a studio called 1212 that I worked at, I was 14, going on 15. I had made a record called ‘We’re Gettin’ Paid.’ My aunt had bought me a drum machine, called a Casio RZ-1. One of the first sampling drum machines, it had like a 2.5 seconds of sample time on it, so I started making my beats from that and using my little piano. I took it into 1212, and the guy who owned the studio – his name is Mick Corey – he took a liking to the fact that I had never been in the studio before, how I kinda knew my way around to where I recognised what I was looking at. I knew how to get in and out.I used to go over to Sam Ash and Manny’s on 48th Street after school and play around with the equipment until they kicked me out. I would watch people and at some point I would overhear conversations about studios. I was trying to get in these places, but I didn’t have the money nor the backing, as far as you get into the buildings and they see this little kid trying to come into a music building. They looking at me like I’m crazy, with no supervision. 1212, I saved up my little money and went and did the sessions. I asked him, ‘I would love to work in a place like this!’ And he said, ‘Why not?’ I liked at him like he was crazy. He was asking me what did I know about this and what did I know about that and I was answering all of the questions right. He was talking about ratio and threshold and attack and things of that nature. I understood that because I used to read a lot and picked it up from that point until I really got my hands on it. I had some sort of a tutorial head-start due to literature.
Buckshot – The Unkut Mini Interview
Once again I found myself subjected to indignities of a press day, where you have ten or fifteen minutes allotted to talk to a rapper who has already bored themselves to death speaking to the twenty other jerks before you and some herb always messes up the schedule and as a result that fifteen minutes turns into less than ten. Just for laughs, I decided to stay on the line and laugh at the other shitty questions from the amateur journalists who followed me, while witnessing Buckshot get progressively more confusing the more he drank and/or smoked to make the whole process slightly less tedious for himself. Nevertheless, I still managed to get a couple of interesting jewels from the former Black Moon front man.
Robbie: What inspired you start making music?
Buckshot: My uncle David was a dancer, he was an entertainer and he made dancing a big influence on my life when I was a youngster. He was a dancer for a group called Mtume, they made a record called ‘Juicy.’ I saw him on TV and I felt like he achieved the ultimate impossible and one day I was going to do that and I would achieve the same impossible. I kept going and kept going and I kept dancing. I stopped dancing in 1990 and I became an MC at that point. I always wanted to be an MC but never thought that that was my path. I always thought that dancing was gonna be the way for me. When my MC got locked-up I felt like I had no choice but to continue what we started. When he got locked-up he was like, ‘Yo, keep it going!’ I was like, ‘How am I gonna keep it going? You know what? I’mma just start emceeing myself.’ That’s how I became an MC.
Angie Stone aka Angie B [The Sequence] – The Unkut Interview
It’s taken me ten years to interview a female rapper on these pages, which either means this marks the onset of ‘progressive’ thinking in my old age or I’m a natural born rap misogynist. Either way, during the limited window of time I had to talk with Angie we kicked it about her days in The Sequence and she shared an eye-opening story about her involvement with The Roxy.
Angie Stone – The Unkut Interview
Video of The Sequence performing ‘Simon Says’ on the Job Man Caravan show:
Non-Rapper Dudes Series: Brian Coleman Interview
At one point liner notes were nearing extinction on rap albums, but thanks to the fine work of people like Brian Coleman and the crew at Get On Down, they’re currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts, giving aging, bitter rap fanatics such as myself the perfect excuse to bang on about the first Ultramagnetic album in day-to-day conversation. Most of you would have read Rakim Told Me/Check The Technique by now, so you know that copping the Mr. Coleman’s third tome is mandatory at this point. He took some time out last weekend to trade war stories from the trenches of the hip-hop interview battlefield and discuss the trials and tribulations that go along with such in-depth work.
Robbie: Was the ‘Classic Material’ column in XXL your first published work?
Brian Coleman: I started that column in 1999, that was Elliott Wilson’s idea. I had been writing for XXL before that. I started, I think, in the second issue. I wrote for them until 2004. That Ultramagnetic chapter in Rakim Told Me started as a piece I did for XXL and then I expanded it greatly over the years. In ‘98 Ultramagnetic was supposedly reforming so everyone was like, ‘Oh, we should talk to them about that!’ I had been writing a little bit before that, I’d been writing for URB, The Boston Phoenix, I wrote for this magazine called CMJ, it’s basically the trade publication for college radio. I was a hip-hop columnist there, it was cool because you could write about a lot of indy stuff.