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.
Diamond D – The Unkut Interview
Growing up in Forest Projects in the South Bronx, DJ Diamond D embarked on a career as a local DJ before teaming-up with childhood friend Master Rob to form the Ultimate Force crew and release the “I’m Not Playing” single on Strong City. Following on from yesterdays detailed breakdown of his first solo album, we discussed his formative years as a music fan, his loyalty to those he grew-up with and some of his lesser known musical contributions beyond his work with the D.I.T.C. crew.
Robbie: How old were you when you first deejayed publicly?
Diamond D: First time I deejayed in public I was around 13, 14 in my projects at the jams outside. There were two DJ’s in my neighborhood – DJ Supreme and DJ Hutch. They would come outside and basically provide the soundtrack to our lives, through hip-hop. At some point, from me pestering them, they let me get on their set. To me that was the biggest deal, to be able to get on the turntables in your projects and feel the love of the people that were in the projects, basically.
Track By Track: Diamond D Breaks Down The Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop Album
Today marks ten years since I started Unkut Dot Com, and what better way to celebrate than to sit down with the original “Best Producer On The Mic” himself, Diamond D. Originally scheduled to take place in late 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of his classic debut album, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, it wasn’t until last week that it finally happened. We began by discussing his timeless debut, track-by-track:
Diamond D: I’mma keep it a hunned with you, I only wanted twelve songs on there. But you’ve gotta remember in the early 90’s it wasn’t uncommon for an album to have 18, 19 songs. You look at Pete Rock‘s album, Mecca and the Soul Brother. You look at De La Soul‘s first album. If it had been up to me it wouldn’t have been 21 songs on that album. But Chemistry was just like, “We gonna just roll the dice and throw all the shit on there.” I can’t say which ones I would have left off, but I can tell you I ain’t want all 21 on there! But it seems like it’s good that they did that, because I never put out an album with them again.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Spencer Bellamy Interview
After coming up with Howie Tee as DJ and then producer, Spencer Bellamy started East Flatbush Project and released a series of quality records on his own 10/30 Uproar label at the beginning of the mid 90’s independent hip-hop vinyl movement. Best known for being the man responsible for the legendary “Tried By 12″ instrumental, Spencer talks about the ups and downs of his experiences in the rap game.
Robbie: Can you tell me about how you started off with Howie Tee?
Spencer Bellamy: He used to have a crew called Count Disco. We were a local crew – myself, his brother and Howie would DJ – and then he had the MC’s, the Sureshot 4 MC’s, so they would do their routines. I hooked-up with him when I was around eleven years old. We played together for a few years and then we just became cool. After he cut-out of deejaying and went more into the production side of it, I would just watch what he would do. I was kinda like an apprentice, so to speak. From there, I tried my hand at production.
Sir Ibu – The Unkut Interview
Born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Crown Heights, Sir Ibu cemented a place in rap folklore with a record called “Holy War (Live)”, which still stands as one of the rawest examples of beats and rhymes ever recorded, so much so that Ghostface recreated a portion of it on his own modern-day remake named “Mighty Healthy”. Beyond being an influential microphone god, it turns out that Ibu may also have been the first ever Conservative Rap Coalition member, as well as having an obscure connection to Australian culture. Salutes to BK Thoroughbred for connecting me with Brooklyn rap royalty and helping this interview happen…
Robbie: What sparked your interest in rhyming initially?
Sir Ibu: It was my cousin – I think it was back in ‘79. I heard him rapping, and I was like, “Wow! What is that?” So he told me what it was and then let me hear this record. I think it was by Spoonie Gee? I kinda liked that, so ever since then I just started writing. I just used to write about girls – all my raps were about girls. Girls this, girls that, just bragging about how I am with the girls. So then when I ran into Supreme – I would say was about ‘83, ‘84 – he told me, “Listen, you’re good. But you could be better if you changed your subject matter. Instead of talking about how good you are with girls, talk about how good you are on the microphone. How good you are with your lyrics and your music and your rhymes and your vocabulary. Just anything but girls!” I’m like, “Alright.” So I did it and I came back to him and I said, “How ‘bout this?” And he said, “That’s perfect! Do you wanna be part of my group?” I’m like, “Alright, let’s do it.” And that’s how I got with him and his sister. It’s interesting, ‘cos his sister – her name was Ice-T originally when we started – but Ice-T from the west coast started making a name for himself, so it was like, “Listen, you’ve gotta change your name.” So she changed it to Nefertiti.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode Four
The final part of my interview with Aaron Fuchs at the new Tuff City offices, which covers competing against Def Jam, his work with Funkmaster Wizard Wiz and the infamous “Crack It Up”, Freddy B and The Mighty Mic Masters and The Maximus Three, amongst others. Also features a random Bob Marley anecdote for good measure.