Bobby Simmons [Stetsasonic] – The Unkut Interview, Part Two
Continuing my discussion with Stetsasonic drummer Bobby Simmons, we discuss touring, Flavor Flav ethering Prince, the rivalry with EPMD, beef with WreckX N Effect and vaulted tracks.
Robbie: Touring must have been essential back then.
Bobby Simmons: The best tour I’ve ever done was that Run-DMC Run’s House tour. Every night I would sit on the side of the stage and I couldn’t wait to watch Run and them’s show. Run and them were just amazing to watch. When you watch Krush Groove and you saw Jam-Master Jay cut that “Run! Run!” You were like, “Oh shoot! They getting ready to do something!” It was really that kind of intensity in the air, waiting for Run to come on, and DMC just standing there with his arm’s folded. You just couldn’t wait to see Run walk out! Then when he came out, Run really controlled you with what he said. You didn’t see that in the movie. You didn’t get to see people take their Adidas sneakers off and put it in the air. When I saw that, I said, “This is it. It’s finished.” Who in the world can get everyone in Madison Square Garden to take off their sneakers and put them in the air? All you saw was different colored Adidas in the air. It was amazing to see that command. It was beautiful.
Track By Track: Diamond D Breaks Down The Diam Piece Album
Diamond D is releasing his latest project, The Diam Piece, on 30 September so I caught up with him to find out the stories behind each track and get a little bit of insight into the process of constructing a production project with so many guests.
Diamond D: It’s more or less a production LP, about two and a half years it took. A lot of tracks I didn’t even use. I had about 27 tracks but I only used 18. Some of the artists I was in the studio with, and others – because of their touring schedule and my touring schedule – I just sent them music and they sent me the session back. If the track that I give them has a sample in it that’s giving it direction then they’ll follow that. If there is no sample or concept at the beginning I just let the MC’s paint their own pictures and try to figure out how can make it connect. I use a lot more live instrumentation now. I still chop and manipulate samples, but my sound just sounds bigger now. Just using better equipment so the sample frequencies are better.
Bobby Simmons [Stetsasonic] – The Unkut Interview, Part One
Bobby Simmons is best known as a member of Stetsasonic, the original “Hip-Hop Band,” but during an extensive conversation with him last week he also shared some classic memories about Melle Mel trolling new rappers in the late 80’s, a two-year stint as a DJ at the Latin Quarters and the escapades of Eric B. and Rakim‘s main muscle, the original 50 Cent. This is part one of a three part interview, so get comfortable…
Robbie: Did you study drumming at school?
Bobby Simmons: I self-taught myself drums, I was six years-old. My brother was in the music business too, he was a session guitarist for groups like Sister Sledge and Dan Hartman in the mid-70’s, so I kinda self-taught myself listening to a lotta the records that he would play and trying to figure out the drum – what does what. The first record that I actually learned how to play – that took me from when I was six to when I was seven – was the Ohio Players. The drummer, Diamond, I was so fascinated how he played drums on ‘Skin Tight’ and ‘Fire,’ I wanted to learn to play how he played. The drum sounds were heavy, the snare was fat, the kick was fat, and Diamond used to do all this fast foot [work] on the pedal.
From there I played in my brothers local band and just kept myself active doing that. Deejaying also helped me how to play drums too, cos in the early 80’s it helped me how to blend timings and beats, with the disco records and the Chuck Brown records and the James Brown records helped me keep great timing. Knowing how to keep timing and knowing what the kick and snare and the hi-hat do, I self-taught myself. I kinda wish I was taught and went to schooling to read for it, but my father took me to drumming school and I never went back. It was taking too long! “I wanna get to this part!” [laughs]
Domingo – The Unkut Interview
Domingo‘s latest album, Same Game, New Rules dropped this week, featuring a mixture of veteran MC’s (AZ, Kool G Rap, KRS-One) and new jacks (Chris Rivers, Kon Boogie, Joey Fattz), so I took some time out to discuss some of the highs and lows of his long career in the music game, and found out some amusing trivia about some LL Cool J and G Rap songs in the process.
Robbie: What sparked you off to start making beats?
Domingo: My uncle used to go to radio personality college and he started deejaying for a radio station in Chicago as an intern and then became a radio personality there. He would send me cassettes back of him deejaying and I was always fascinated. When he finally came back home to Brooklyn, he threw his equipment in the basement of my grandma’s house where I was living and he would DJ down there and play the drums. My uncle was very multi-talented, I would just sit there and watch him. I always remember him playing “King Tim” and then he played “Rapper’s Delight” and Kurtis Blow. When “Rapper’s Delight” came out, that’s when I was hooked. One day I started deejaying and then it transcended into me wanting to do demos and write my little raps and do battles in the street. I did my demos with two tape decks, back and forth how it used to get done, then I went on to four tracks.
What was it like growing up in East New York back then?
East New York was homicide central, like Jeru said. I grew up with Jeru, Lil’ Dap – childhood friends. A good friend of mine, his nickname is Froggy, and he’s like family to me. We always say that we “graduated.” We were lucky to live to 21. I could take you to the cemetery and show you a row of all my friends who are dead. East New York was a very rough neighborhood, man. Early childhood memories is gunshots, trains running past my house – the L train, cos my house is right near the corner on Sheppard Avenue. Growing up with my friends – my friends are still my friends to this day! And the fact that one of my good friends named Edison, who I grew up with, if it wasn’t for him putting me in his father’s Chevy Caprice Classic and telling me, “Domingo – this is you all the way! Let’s go see Marley at ‘BLS, he’s looking for people.” If he didn’t drag me there, I would’ve never met Marley.
Spoonie Gee – The Unkut Interview
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.
Illa Ghee – The Unkut Interview
Illa Ghee was known as a Mobb Deep affiliate in the early days of his career, having appeared on Hell On Earth as General G, but his latest LP, Social Graffiti, has allowed him to free himself of any constraints and push his rhymes beyond well-worn street themes. While he was riding the subway the other night, we chopped it up about his early days and how Super Lover Cee inadvertently ended his cousin’s rap career.
What were you doing before you worked with Mobb Deep and Alchemist?
I was still rhyming, but I was more into the street life at the time. I went to school with Prodigy, they got cool with Alchemist and by the time I came home from jail Alchemist was hanging with them all the time so I started linking up with Alchemist too. My first actual CD I put together was called Body Music and most of the production on that was done by me. That was 2003.
Were you taking rhyming seriously at that stage?
I just wanted to rhyme on the radio! There was a show – Pete Rock and Marley Marl – at the time that was on the radio. That’s where most of the things I wrote were pretty much aimed at, just getting on the radio and lose my mind.
DJ King Shameek – The Unkut Interview
Having returned to the music game five years ago after an extended hiatus, DJ King Shameek is back rocking clubs on a regular basis in New Jersey and beyond, but you most likely first saw him do his thing with Twin Hype for their dance floor classic “Do It To The Crowd.” Shameek took some time out of his schedule to talk about his roots as a DJ and early production techniques, King Sun vs. Ice Cube and his involvement with the mysterious diss record “The Truth” in 1999, which may have inspired 50 Cent‘s “How To Rob.”
Robbie: What made you want to take deejaying seriously?
DJ King Shameek: I was living in California at the time – I’m originally from New Jersey – but my uncle was at a legendary club in Newark, NJ called The Zanibar, so every time he used to come to California he would always bring a couple of records and give me some stuff, and I would see photographs of him deejaying. That’s when I really started trying to persue it a little more, get turntables and stuff like that. This is when they didn’t even have a mixer with a cross-fader yet. I was getting these microphone mixers that just had the faders up and down, so I would just sit there with a left and a right, putting one up and then putting the other one down! It was hilarious if you think about it now. I was always collecting records and I inherited records from my parents – they brought me up on a lotta Motown stuff and some Spanish stuff here and there. I was preparing myself in my adolescent years, toying around with my father’s record player, trying to scratch on them! [laughs] I would try to do that when he wasn’t watching. I ended up leaving California in ’87. Before that I was just doing a few gigs by being featured here and there, it wasn’t until I came here that I started producing and deejaying professionally.
The Unkut Guide To The New Music Seminar Battle For World Supremacy
Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman started the New Music Seminar in 1980 as a music industry networking event, and in 1985 introduced the MC and Beatbox Battle for World Supremacy (the beatboxing was replaced by DJ’s the following year), which would provide a fertile showcase for both new and established rappers and DJ’s to make a name for themselves. The following is a selection of memories from some of the rapper dudes who either competed or were in attendance.
Memories of Big L
Just read this wonderfully comprehensive feature on Big L over at Complex, titled Casualty of the Game: The Big L Story, and was inspired to collate a few stories of my own from past interviews. T-Ray, Peter Oasis, Milano and AG all share some memories involving The Devil’s Son…
Him-Lo – The Unkut Interview
Him-Lo has been dropping music on these here internets for the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until his Horsepower mixtape that I really paid attention. Turns out this Philly Lo-Lifer has been deep in this here shit since the golden era of Philadelphia hip-hop, and his brand of non-progressive, anti-social rap is just what the city needs right now.
Robbie: How did you get started?
Him-Lo: We’ve been rhyming for a long time, ever since we were teenagers. We were part of a few different crews before we cut it down to just me and Clever One – The Buze Bruvaz. We were also in a group called Bermuda Triangle at one point with a few other members, we grew up with them also. Clever One, that’s my brother, and those other dudes we were at grammar school with, so we’ve been rhyming for a long time. Matter of fact, when we started rhyming the game was completely different. Now everybody’s rhyming. We would go somewhere and when people found out we were doing this they were excited, “Oh, you rap? Kick a rap for us!” It was so different at the time. So we were doing it at a young age, and I’m 40 now. We were so heavy into hip-hop at such an early age – not just the rapping, all aspects of it – we grew up as graffiti writers, battling people and breakdancing, deejaying, doing everything. That’s why even at this age now we still do it, just for fun. It’s what we do, we can’t really shake it!
AG – The Unkut Interview
Andre The Giant has been holding down Bronx tradition ever since he first got his starting shot on Lord Finesse’s “Back To Back Rhyming” and “Keep It Flowin'” from the Funky Technician LP. From there he formed Showbiz & AG and ushered in the birth of the Diggin’ In The Crates crew. Twenty four years later he continues to rep the crew, as he and Show complete work on a new album. AG took some time out while touring to speak on his connection to The Bronx, inspiration, winning recognition from his peers and the memory of Party Arty in this refreshingly honest conversation.
Robbie: Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to pursue rap seriously?
AG: I remember exactly when! I always played around with it, because my older brother LB was always into the culture. He’s a clothes designer now, and a great graffiti artist. He used to MC too, so I used to have to do what he did. He cultivated me – he kinda forced it on me at first – but I took to it cos I was pretty good at it. I just would play around, but the moment I heard “My Melody” the first time in a park jam it was in 23 Park, in Forest projects in The Bronx. It was right before the summer of me going to high school, and the Five Percenters – the Nation of the Gods and the Earths – were in the same park, away from the crowd cos it was a big park jam, on the other side of the gate in a huge cipher. I didn’t know what it was, but I was attracted to the cipher at the time. I was just trying to figure out what they were doing. It looked so on point, they were disciplined, you could tell they knew what they were talking about.
Dino Brave [The UN] – The Unkut Interview
As a founding member of The UN with Roc Marciano, Dino Brave has experienced a lot of Long Island rap history first hand. Inspired by the Spectrum City crew coming up (which would later evolve into Public Enemy), Brave had his time in the spotlight cut short thanks to bad timing in the crumbling music industry. But with the recent re-release of UN Or U Out, a new generation of rap fanatics are getting the chance to hear Brave, Laku, Mike Raw and Roc Marciano in action once again.
Robbie: How did everything start for you?
Dino Brave: It was kinda handed down to me, man. A lotta people in the family did music. My older brothers played instruments – they played guitar, they played the drums, made beats, keyboard players – all sorts of things. I grew-up with production studios in my house! I got into deejaying, it was the cheapest equipment I could get my hands on, putting two record players together and a mixer. I started deejaying around seven, touching official turntables. I was doing pretty everything that I wanted to do with the turntable, that I seen the great’s doing – it was boring for me at that point. So I decided to pick up the mic at thirteen. I heard “My Melody” and that made me want to write my first rap. I went to school with it, dude’s used to bang beats on the table and stuff like that. I kicked the rhyme, and my cousin who I was in school with loved it. He was like, “Run with it,” so I ran with it. I kept writing, did talent shows coming up and just start making tapes after school. I went to school with dude’s from The UN, so they were those guys at the lunch table, beating on the tables and making rhymes.
Five Minutes With Pete Rock In An Airport
Pete Rock loves his food. So much so that he’s never let a pesky phone interview get in the way of his looking after the needs of his stomach. Back in 2008, while I attempted to extract some slivers of information from him for a cover feature for Hip Hop Connection magazine, the Soul Brother # 1 proceeded to chow down on an entire order of Chinese take-out while he fielded questions, noisily chewing into the mouthpiece like a bored boom-bap bovine. Six years later, I catch him between flights en route to Australia to play a series of club dates with DJ Premier, and the lure of the airport food lounge proved too much before he’d even made it halfway through my allotted ten minutes. Nevertheless, he did share a couple of interesting tidbits about his early days, which is what we’re here for anyway.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series: Matt Fingaz Interview [Guesswhyld Records]
Matt Fingaz is living proof that unpaid internships can be more than just slave labor for record companies, as he was able to parlay his connections into an independent record label with Guesswhyld Records before he made the move into project co-ordination with the B.O.C (Business of Coordination) management company with Stat Quo, which handles with music, sport and fashion. Matt took some time out to kick it about those idealistic days when making an underground rap record was as simple as knowing the right guys in the neighborhood, as he helped everyone from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Sha Money XL get their feet in the door of the music game.
Robbie: What led to you getting involved with starting a label?
Matt Fingaz: In 1994 I was a DJ for college radio and I interned for Blunt Records – Mic Geronimo, Royal Flush and Cash Money Click – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday I was interning at Relativity, when Common and the Beatnuts and Fat Joe and Bone Thugs was popular. I just loved vinyl, I loved collecting records – I didn’t even want to be in the music business! One day my friend Brandon put out this record called The Derelicts, and I said, “Wow! You put out your own record?!” He said, “Yeah, and I put it out in Japan!” He had this check and it said “$1,000”. I was like, “Oh, you’re rich!” Cos we were just kids. I was nineteen years old and I was really good with the college promotions and marketing, but I was terrible in the mail room. Basically I didn’t know how to tape up packages, and they hated me so they complained. I used to work under Irv Gotti – he was DJ Irv at the time – and I worked under this guy Chappy. Chappy was like, “I’m sorry but we can’t use your services anymore.” I’m like, “You’re firing me? I’m working for free!”
Ruc Da Jackel aka Mr. QB – The Unkut Interview
Following the Foul Monday interview, fellow Killa Kidz member Ruc Da Jackel reached out to tell his story. Having been in the game since the age of twelve, Mr. QB has worked with Killa Sha, Nas and Ron Artest, and is currently preparing his debut solo album, I Am Queensbridge and just launched his I Am QB clothing line.
Robbie: What got you started in the rap game?
Ruc Da Jackel: It was just the element of Queensbridge. It’s always been around us, rap music has always been a part of our community. Having all them influences of hip-hop around me had me making raps up, banging on the lunchroom table. From there, just kept going.
Foul Monday – The Unkut Interview
After enduring a number of false starts in the music game, QB MC Foul Monday is preparing his debut album title I Hate Fucking Mondays with a number of local and European producers. Having worked with Killa Sha and Ron Artest in the past, Foul has witnessed a lot of Queensbridge rap history, and he took a minute out to explain the finer points of that thun language with me.
Robbie: What inspired you to take rapping seriously?
Foul Monday: It was actually two different forces – one that made me start rhyming, and one that wanted me to start making music. I met Starvin B in the eighth grade – he’s Irish and Indonesian, so you can imagine what that package looks like rapping! At the time he was one of the best rappers in our school, so I was kinda inspired to be that. I’m thinking, “If this kid can do it, I can do it.” As fate would have it, he was transferred over to my class and we became good friends and he helped me find an identity with this rapping stuff. When you start out, you emulate, you steal, but he helped me find my own voice. As far as wanting to make music? That came from Killa Sha and the Killa Kidz. Those were my friends from the neighborhood, at that point they were already doing music and pressing up vinyls. Making music wasn’t realistic goal until I saw them doing it, so I just strived to get better and better until folks started acknowledging me for my talent.
Big Noyd – The Unkut Interview
The longest serving member of the Mobb Deep crew not named Havoc or Prodigy is Big Noyd, who was along for the ride through all of the highs and lows that the music industry had to throw at them, as well as surviving his fair share of challenging experiences as a soloist. Currently living in North Carolina, Rapper Noyd is currently working on his fourth official solo album with his old QB buddy Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace, and he took some time out to speak in detail about his long career in the rap game.
Robbie: How did it all start for you?
Big Noyd: We all were friends first, before rap. I used to be up in Queensbridge, then I moved to Brooklyn to stay with my aunts for a couple of years. Before I left, we used to listen to rap but we wasn’t really doing it. When I came back to visit on the weekend, Scarface Twin [Gambino] was like, “Yo, Havoc and Prodigy are in the studio. They signed with 4th & Broadway and they working on a rap album.” I was like, “Get the fuck outta here! Wow…cool.” I went there just to hang out in the studio and they were working on “Stomp ‘Em Out” and I was rhyming in there, I liked the beat. I was just doing what I liked to do, my own little rhyme, and then they heard it and they were like, “Yo, repeat that rhyme again! That’s perfect for this song we working on.” I was like, “Well if anything I’ll write a new verse.” Cos this verse was on something I was working on just for myself at the time – no record companies or anything like that – I had to be about fourteen years old. They were like, “Can you write another one? It won’t take that much time?” I write faster now, but back then it took me about an hour. I laid down the sixteen bars and it was perfect – history begin.
Lushlife – The Unkut Interview
Philidelphia’s own Lushlife caught my ear in 2012 with his Plateau Vision album, which saw him realize the potential heard on Cassette City and match the quality of his production with his rhymes. Currently working on a new album with producers CSLSX, I caught-up with Lushlife over the phone while he was midway through attempting to enjoy pizza and beer at a local bar to find out what inspired him to channel “Broken Language,” his appreciation for The LOX and why drinks cost so much in London.
Robbie: Did you start out as a producer or a rapper?
Lushlife: It didn’t even occur to me that I would rap. I had been making beats and doing production for many years, and I didn’t even want to go into the world of trying to find people to rhyme over my instrumentals. The moment that I got a mic at 20 – after a lifetime of listening and memorising rap songs – something just came out. As a hip-hop fan, I was like, “This is worthwhile shit!” So I just ran with that. The MC side of it came way second.
Timeless Truth – The Unkut Interview
Superbad Solace and Oprime39 first made some noise with their Brugal & Presidentes EP in 2012, and followed-up with their debut album Rock-It Science the following year. With a new EP and album due soon, it seemed like the perfect time to build with these two brothers from Flushing, Queens to talk about music, their iconic neighborhood and the importance of dressing fresh.
Robbie: Did you both grow-up in Flushing, Queens?
Solace: We moved out here in in 1988 because my father was a building superintendent and he landed a gig right here. We were living in Corona before that and that was a dream job back in the day, so he took the whole family out here.
Oprime: He was a super out in Lefrak at the time and an opportunity popped up in Flushing. We’ve been out here ever since.
Solace: The ill shit with a superintendent job is you also get the rent-free apartment.
DJ Stitches – The Unkut Interview
The story of Charlie Rock aka DJ Stitches is a classic example of how brutal the music industry can be. As a founding member of De La Soul, only himself discarded once they signed their first record deal, he went on to score a contract with Mercury Records for his next group – Class A Felony – only to have the album stuck in limbo for two years after his MC was brutally murdered in a bungled robbery attempt. Having also been involved with records for Uptown and Ilacoin, Stitches shared a number of behind-the-scenes incidents during his extended tour of duty in the rap world, and revealed some untold Long Island hip-hop history.
Robbie: What inspired you become a DJ originally?
DJ Stitches: I’m from South Jamaica, Queens – Southside. The hip-hop scene in Queens – 1978, 1979 – I seen some DJ’s, and my cousin from The Bronx, Mixmaster TC and the Soul City Crew, he used to let me mess around on his turntables. I mighta been like eleven or twelve. Me and my cousin Blinky kinda had the bug since then, and I migrated to Long Island in ninth grade and then came to North Amityville.