The 30 Unkut Interviews Selected For The Past The Margin Book
I’m currently finishing off the final round of editing before we get stuck into the designing stage of the Past The Margin: A Decade of Unkut Interviews book and thought I’d share the final selection of my thirty favorite from the 150 or so that I’ve conducted so far. A third of those listed are expanded versions and follow-ups to what’s previously been published here, indicated in bold:
Magazine Vaults: The Time I Accidently Annoyed Keith Shocklee
Click for full-size version
Quite possibly the highlight of my brief print magazine career was when Hip Hop Connection ran my interviews with DJ Johnny Juice/Son of Bazerk and Keith Shocklee side by side in issue #221. As you can read above, the Bomb Squad co-founder didn’t appreciate the presentation. The best thing about the incident was the fact that it helped bring the ‘Bite Back’ page out of retirement after years in the wilderness. Salad days, indeed.
Read The Label: The Hydra Entertainment Story
The independent hip-hop resurgence of the mid-90’s seems great in retrospect, but in the days before widespread internets access it was often a case of pot-luck when ordering the latest batch of vinyl via fax from Beat Street or Mr Bongos. While most artists were releasing one-shot singles on their own imprints, there soon emerged a handful of reliable indy labels that were able to maintain a level of quality control amidst the glut of wax dropping every week. Stretch and Bobitto, having championed the best in underground rap for years on their cult radio show, both tried their hands at the label game with mixed results via the Dolo and Fondle ‘Em imprints, while Guesswyld, Tru Criminal, Raw Shack and Tape Kingz also released a few winners.
CRC Polos, Zine and Tape Orders Closing This Weekend!
Meet the team of under-age workers who will be producing your packs in an 1890’s style workhouse.
Regular service will resume shortly, but in the meantime if you’ve been saving up your loose change to order the Mom’s Basement Activity Pack, order’s will be closing off Sunday night and going into production Monday. Don’t miss out for the chance to own the first ever Rap Blog Polo in the history of the internets, the premier issue of Executive Class magazine or the lo-fi delights of the Mom’s Basement Pause Tape tribute to Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout…
Can’t afford a CRC polo? Cop an Executive Class zine and tape instead.
Just blown all your cash on GTA V or a hooker? Never fear. For those of you who aren’t quite ready to take the plunge and join the elite group that are Conservative Rap Coalition polo owners, we are now going back on the claim of “will not separate” and offering the joys of Executive Class Volume 1 and the Mom’s Basement Pause Tape for the more affordable price of $5 each, plus postage.
Executive Class / Mom’s Basement Pause Tape Packs without the polo:
Coming Soon: The Mom’s Basement Activity Pack
The future is now. In a last ditch attempt to escape Mom’s Basement again, I’ve been working on an “activity pack” that will be available for pre-order in the next couple of weeks. Put together with the limited resources at my disposal (safety scissors, glue stick, a photocopier, a double tape deck and a pile of 70’s Penthouse magazines) I’ve managed to piece together the following:
1. The world’s first official Conservative Rap Coalition t-shirt, sporting our all-new corporate logo.
2. A 60-minute tape featuring promos and exclusives from my collection of 80’s Red Alert and Chuck Chillout radio shows on one side, and my favorite mid-90’s Tim Westwood Capitol One Rap Show moments on the flip.
3. A 32-page zine called Executive Class, featuring classic comment section wars, removed content and exclusives from the Unkut archives.
This will be a super-limited edition package, only available via pre-order and limited to a maximum of 100 editions. Consider yourselves warned!
A-Trak – The Modern Fix Interview 
Just found this interview from Modern Fix magazine, which was my first published cover feature, that I never put on the site. Ironically, A-Trak would prove to be heavily involved with the dreaded Hipster Rap invasion which Unkut was so instrumental in shutting down…
While most of us were trying to score a six-pack and steal a copy of Hustler, Alain Macklovitch was in his parent’s Montreal basement at the tender age of thirteen, mastering the art of scratching and mixing on the turntable he bought with his Bar Mitzvah money (not to say that he wasn’t spending his down-time staring at nude chicks, but most likely a little less than some of us). Only two years later, he had developed his skills to such a supreme level that he was able to compete in the DMC’s with dudes twice his age – and beat all of those fuckers! After winning the deejay’s equivalent of the World Series (with the main difference being that you actually are competing against the entire planet), he was asked to join the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, which featured heavyweights such as Mixmaster Mike and DJ Q-Bert, before eventually teaming-up with a new crew called The Allies, who went on to win just about every DJ title out in both group and solo categories. By the time Alain (aka A-Trak aka Young Trizzle) retired from the competitive scene at 18, he had five world championships under his belt, and was ready to expand his range into other areas of the music game.
Back in 1997, he had started a hip-hop label with older brother Dave, primarily to release vinyl from Obscure Disorder (their group back in Canada who released several well-received 12’s, including a popular record with Non-Phixion). These days, he’s got a new label (Fool’s Gold), has toured the world as Kanye West’s DJ and has all kinds of spin-off’s from his autobiographical DVD released in 2006 called “Sunglasses Is A Must”. Having just wrapped-up a three week European tour with DJ Craze and Dominant, I spoke to A-Trak at his friend’s house in London.
40 Years of Hip-Hop Tape Culture
^ Pic stolen from here.
Mix tapes can be a whole lot more than a bunch of songs you record for a chick you’re trying to impress by revealing your “sensitive side”. In the world of hip-hop, they have proven to be one of the most important tools in spreading the sound of a native New York subculture into a worldwide phenomenon. Allow me to break it down for you, decade by decade.
The Four Best/Worst Rap Alter-Ego Albums Ever
Nothing says ‘I’m out of decent ideas’ like the good old Alter-Ego album. For most rappers, it’s not really much of a stretch to adapt another personality, since 95% of them are acting anyway (except for everyone who’s gone to jail, natch). This was published in the last rag that’s still willing to print my increasingly incoherent ramblings, so of course I spent a whole five minutes throwing it together…
Ghostface Killah & Raekwon The Chef – The Lost Unkut Interview
Around the time of Stark’s R&B album and Chef’s Cuban sequel, I interviewed the two of them for Hip-Hop Connection Digital. Here are some of the parts that I didn’t feature in the original piece that mainly cover some of the old days of Staten Island rap.
Robbie: What were the early days like on Staten Island?
Ghostface: It was all good, with my peoples, just doin’ what thugs do. We was out there, whylin’, doin’ whatever we had to do to get that money. We did the Wu-Tang thing later on in ’93. Came out with that – a few guys are from Staten, few guys are from Brooklyn – came together and we rocked the world, man! We dropped a bunch of classics…and I’m here where we are right now.
Staten and Long Island seem to have a lot more creativity since you guys had to work harder to get that shine. Would you agree?
Raekwon: Absolutely. That’s true, because a lot of people, they only knew of Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Manhattan. Them was like the majority of people’s whereabouts, but then when you go to Staten Island it’s like weird combination of all them boroughs. When you go to Yonkers it’s a weird combination of all them boroughs. The more that people don’t know about your town is the more that you feel that you have to represent your town! We really just appreciated the fact that people didn’t know us, because we knew when they did find out who were, they was gonna be even more open to what we had to offer. So in a way it was it was a gift and a curse to really be from a forgotten borough though.
How Eminem Won & Lost At The Same Time
Why do people who don’t even work in the music industry talk about album sales? It makes no sense whatsoever when you think about it, but since the young rap fans of today are often more concerned with what sort of jacket Kanye was wearing in his new video than what he says in his lyrics, it shouldn’t really come as any great surprise. See, there’s this white guy who used to rap about being crazy, going on killing spree’s and unsavory thoughts toward the mother of his child (and his own mum, come to think of it). Nothing unusual there either – pale-faced rappers have often resorted to casting themselves in the role of the lunatic in an attempt to deflect any questions of ‘street cred’ or whatever you want to call it. He sold a hell of a lot of records performing Black music, won an Oscar, then took a break and got strung-out on goofballs and got fat – basically on some Elvis shit. Here’s the thing – he was actually a pretty great rapper. Sure, as his career progressed the quality of the beats steadily declined and the choruses became increasingly annoying, but the kid still had lyrics to go.
Internets Celebrities – Somebody Say Chea!
I’m not even going to attempt to explain who the Internets Celebrities are – that’s what the ‘About’ section of their site is for, dummies! Okay, since you’re clearly too lazy and/or hungover to crawl over to your laptop and wipe the Cheezel dust from your fingers, I’ll provide a Twitter-proof rundown in less than 140 characters: Dallas Penn, Rafi Kam and Casimir Nozkowski made Ghetto Big Mac, Bodega and Checkmate, hit Sundance, and got 3 million views in the process.
Two Classic Large Professor Interviews
Noah Callahan-Bever, the current E-I-C over at Complex just opened the vaults from his past life as a freelance writer, sharing a couple of outstanding pieces he did on Paul Juice back in 2002. I copped the XXL issue when it dropped, but seem to have misplaced my copy somewhere in my magazine graveyard so it was great to read this one again. The Large and Nas cover feature for Mass Appeal I missed altogether. Salute!
Large Professor Interview [XXL, March 2002]
Nas & Large Professor Cover Story [Mass Appeal, September 2002]
Sure Ya Right…
There are several things that can be expected when reading an interview with an established rapper or producer. Other than the obligatory wholesale abuse of the phrase, “you know what I’m sayin?’, approximately one in every three question and answer sessions will feature some kind of outlandish claim involving either innovations they haven’t been given credit for, or unique techniques that have been shamelessly plundered by their peers. Here are some of my favorites:
Roc Marciano – The Unkut Interview, Volume 2
Photo: Alexander Richter
The first time I spoke to Marciano, his UN crew had paired down to him two members and he had just landed a solo deal with SRC, with plans to put together a project for early 2008 release. Since then, he was pretty much MIA for a couple of years with the exception of a couple of tracks on J-Love tapes and the superb ‘Snow’. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an advance of his Marcberg album appeared and exceeded all my expectations, proving to be the best album I’d heard in a long time. It wasn’t long before I’d arranged a follow-up interview with Roc to find out a little about what had happened since we last spoke and how exactly he managed to deliver such a remarkably strong solo debut.
Robbie: Are you happy with the way the album’s come together?
Roc Marciano: Oh yeah, man. I saw the project through the way I wanted to do it. I drove the ship from beginning to end – I’m definitely happy about that.
Did leaving the SRC deal provide more creative control on the project?
Exactly. I mean I had creative control anyway – I was driving the ship over at SRC! Wasn’t really no difference, there just no politics with this [Fat Beats situation], so that was a beautiful thing.
The new album doesn’t sound like anything else out there right now, kinda the same way that Critical Beatdown hit me.
I always wanted to produce an album from beginning to end, and this was my opportunity to do it. I’m definitely gonna continue producing my own music, but I’m a start working with more producers on some of these future projects. But as of right now? I had to see this one through. It’s something I always wanted to do, ‘cos I’ve always liked how albums sound when they come from one stable. I didn’t want a compilation album of beats for my record – I wanted all my shit to come from my veins. All that music – I feel represents me – in that stage of my life, and now I’m moving on to the next stage. That’s something I always wanted to do, and I got that done. To produce a album all way through got me feeling like the greats…I grew-up loving niggas like Large Professor and shit like that. That’s why I love Nice & Smooth’s first album and shit – well, you know I love all Nice & Smooth albums, but I liked that Teddy Ted, Special K… that chemistry when one team’s working on the album. Slick Rick’s first album – him and Vance Wright. Even up to 36 Chambers and The Infamous – all that shit coming from one unit made the albums just sound like home-cooked food.
Does Japan Fail At Rap?
Here’s a piece that was refused publication in a print magazine I do some shit for. Too xenophobic perhaps? Or maybe there were a bunch of Bathing Ape ads all over the issue…
Is it wrong that my first impulse when penning a column for a Japanese-themed issue involves mentions of the classic ode to self-loving ‘Turning Japanese’, Nintendo DS games based around ‘witch touching’ and an obsession with schoolgirl’s undergarments? Now that we’ve got the obligatory cry of, ‘Oh, those wacky Japanese!’ out of the way, let’s proceed. If you were an independent rapper or producer in the nineties of some notoriety, there’s a good chance you cashed some checks courtesy of the place that gave us Akira. In much the same way as marginal jazz artists continued to perform and record in Europe once they experienced commercial decline in America, underground New York hip-hop dudes were courted by labels such as Next Level and Mary Joy, who released exclusive vinyl projects by everyone from Rawkus mainstay Mos Def to more obscure MC’s such as Lace Da Booms and Mike Zoot (if those names mean anything to you, please hand-in your crusty old backpack at reception). The Diggin’ In The Crates crew were even called upon to produce songs for Japanese MC’s, and the market for rare hip-hop singles went through the roof during the height of the rap craze. De La Soul – once hell bent on breaking every long-standing hip-hop tradition they could think of – even featured Kan Takagi from Major Force rapping in his native tongue on a track from their Bahloone Mindstate LP.
Killa Sha – The Unkut Interview
Photo courtesy Alexander Richter
Killa Sha created the best rap album of 2007, but thanks to limited distribution and an absence of gimmicks, not enough people experienced his addictive GOD Walks on Water the first time around. With a follow-up titled The Shepard due in the near future, as well as a complete album with Large Professor in the works, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to catch Sha Lumi in action.
Robbie: I didn’t realize how long you’ve been in the game initially.
Killa Sha: When it’s time to come out and breathe, I come out and breathe…I been in the game for a long time… when like the Juice Crew started! It’s just crazy that I kinda waited until now to put out a project, but I’m glad that I did wait, ‘cos I got to see the ups and the downs of things.
You were also a member of Super Kids with Tragedy?
You know when you little and you’re just venting into things? That’s what Super Kids is about, basically. It wasn’t no official group, the three of us…it was another DJ that was with us called Chilly Q, which was one of the first younger DJ’s that was on the radio, on WBLS. It was basically just people being young, just venting, trying to do different things.
Raekwon and Ghostface Interviews
Catch me chopping it up with these two Wu-Tang troopers in the latest edition of HHC Digital.
Robbie: You’re doing your thing on Twitter. Is that another way to reach out to the fans?
Raekwon: It’s just all about interacting. I want my fans to know that outside of music y’all can still be close to me. There’s so many different, new, modern-day technology shit that’s going that we gotta coincide with. To me, I think it’s good ‘cos it gives you a hands-on with your fans – even more closer than them just waiting to hear you on the radio or waiting for your album. It’s like, ‘Yo, you can catch me in the lab, nigga! What’s good? I’m making me a turkey burger right now. How ya doing?’ I think that shit is hot right there! [chuckles] I think that’s live! Word up!
Somebody may call me and be like, ‘Yo! Tomorrow’s my birthday, kid!’ I wanna hit a nigga back and be like, ‘Happy birthday, man! Enjoy your day, this is what you should go do.’ Or if you having a bad day, if it’s something I could help you on, that’s what I’m here for. I mean at the end of the day, y’all made me who I am, so I feel like it’s owed to do that to the fans. Especially at times they wanna be heard from – I appreciate that.
So you can confirm that you’re writing your own Twitter updates? You don’t have someone typing it for you?
Nah, all that shit is in the phones right now, so you know it’s not a problem to just say something real quick or whatever, whatever. After I found out a long time ago – like maybe four years ago – that it was like two or three other Raekwons acting like they was me, I had to really step in and really fix that shit. ‘Cos I would hate for fans to be lead by somebody else and not know that they talking to the wrong person. So I had to come in and really fix that situation.
Why Kool G Rap Is The Undisputed
When 4,5,6 collaborator T-Ray declared that, “G Rap is the realest. Nas, Pun, Raekwon – all of them owe their styles to him. He’s like the Muddy Waters of hip-hop” – he summarized exactly why the Kool Genius of Rap continues to influence the style and technique of today’s finest rappers. By combining a wicked sense of humor (‘Operation CB’) with flawless brag rap credentials (‘Kool Is Back’) and a gift for engrossing narrative (‘Streets of New York’), G Rap proved to be far more versatile than his contemporaries during the eighties and light-years ahead of other gun-talk rappers through-out the early nineties.
The 90’s Files – Kool Kim of UMC’s
“We used to all work at the Statue Of Liberty – it was me, U-God, Method Man, Deck and Hass – and that’s where I met Hass. Me and Meth used to go to public school together, back when he was just Clifford Smith and I was just Kim Sharpton. Me and him used to play trumpet together – he modeled his trumpeting style on Clifford Smith, the trumpeter, ‘cos our band teacher used to say he reminded him of him – which was pure bullshit. When I heard the real Clifford Smith I was like, ‘Get the fuck outta here!’
“Son used to enjoy Clifford The Big Red Dog books… I’ma show you how well I know this cat. But son was in Stapleton – I wasn’t no hood dude like that, so I wasn’t gonna rock with him in Stapleton. And I knew Rakeem [RZA] from back when he used to rock with this dude Forest, who calls himself Ishem now. Rakeem and Forest, they used to have they thing, ‘cos Rakeem ain’t no emcee. He wack! He a wack rapper, kid. But Cappadonna, who used to be called Original God at the time, he was ridiculous. Back then, Cappadonna was the Slick Rick of Staten Island.”
Grab the first free digital edition of The Original – which was the old school mini-mag from the back of Hip-Hop Connection that I contributed to in the paper and ink era – for the full interview.
Hip-Hop Connection Digital Hits The Internets
Photo: Kristina Hill
Issue #001 of HHC Digital just hit the mean streets of the internets. Grab the free download here. I’ve got new back-page column titled Unkut Presents: Bacdafucup! and contributed a couple of other bits as well. Still not convinced? Check a section of their awesome DOOM interview:
HHCDigital: Can we talk about a few of the rappers you’ve worked with over the years?
Let’s start with Kurious.
King Jorge! We call him Davie Bowie, ‘cos he’s the star of our crew. That’s Rockstar Jorge! I met him the same time I met Bobbito, both of them were working up at Def Jam. Jorge was working in the mail department. I think Bob got him the job, and he himself was working as the radio guy who promotes shit on radio. The first time I went up to the Def Jam office Pete Nice and [MC] Serch introduced me to everyone up there. This was ’89, right before ‘The Gas Face’ dropped, before 3rd Bass’s first album came out. Jorge was in the mail room, but he always rhymed. Jorge has been rhyming since then, a rhymer by nature. Met him in ’89 and I’ve been his motherfuckin’ partner since then. I’m on his next record, think it’s called ‘II’. I’m a plug that.
What about that guy Earthquake, from ‘Stop Smokin’ That Shit’?
Large Pro – The Unkut Interview
The Live Guy With Glasses is one of hip-hop’s top shelf legends, and having worked on some of rap’s greatest ever albums – in addition to his own stand-out work as the front man for Main Source and as a soloist – he refuses to kick back and relax, continuing to bang out beats and rhymes like only he can. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation from late last year. And yes, I know I forgot to ask him about Vagina Diner…
Robbie: Were you rhyming first or making beats?
Large Pro: It was all kinda simultaneous, but the first time I went in the studio was to rhyme. It was three dudes – it was my dude Tony Rome, it was me – I think I was called K.G. back then – and it was my dude J-Wrath…he was JY, and we would go in the studio and just rhyme and shit. As a matter of fact, Wrath is the manager for Lost Boys now, Cheeks and ‘em. I guess everybody kinda stuck with it, they just went down their own little paths and shit.
So you were just making demos back then?
Yeah, demos. Tony Arfi from Power Play took an interest in us and he decided to invest some studio time in us. We were just puttin’ some demos together, and Karmel was our DJ. He was real nice and just getting’ busy.
So what happened between then and meeting the McKenzie brothers?
After a while I started getting in trouble for writing on walls, writing on trains and everything. They had put me in a group home and everything, and then when I came back out got really serious about tryin’ to do my tapes and do my demos, ‘cos in the group home dudes would be rhyming, bangin’ on the damn dressers and allathat. So I got outta there, came back and I had a little Division for Youth job, a little summer youth job and shit, and I’d blow my whole check goin’ in the studio and shit, tryin’ to make a demo. Then after a while I met the McKenzie brothers, and their moms started investing in us and we took it from there.
The 90’s Files – F.T. of Street Smartz
Name: F.T. (Fuc That aka Full Time) from Street Smartz.
Affiliations: Lead MC in Street Smartz, which consisted of F.T., Maoz and Syx. Part of the Tru Criminal Records family, which included AK Skills, 151 and God Sunz.
Claim To Fame: Contributed tracks for a number of movie soundtracks, including Bones (‘F-It-Less’), Rush Hour 2 (‘Brolic’), Friday After Next (‘Sex, Drugs, Alcohol & Lies’), Final Destination 2 (‘John F. Hennessey’) and All About The Benjamins (‘Money All The Time’ feat. Junior MAFIA). Opened for Eminem on the Anger Management 2 tour.
Current Status: Recently completed a track with Black Milk, and is currently recording a new album with his Stand Out Music crew - Musicman (who’s worked with Akon), Blaqmatter and A-King.
Eric B. – The Unkut Interview
Wondering what Eric B. has been up to since Don’t Sweat The Technique? After he released his self-titled solo album in 1995, Eric focused his energies on a number of lucrative business ventures (including a chain of restaurants), which in turn offered him the opportunity to set-up a community center to help local kids stay out of trouble. He’s recently established the Eric B. Music Group, and has teamed-up with Brooklyn native Avion for his return to the rap game with for their first single, ‘Hit The Floor’.
Robbie: What’s the story with this new MC your working with?
Eric B: Name’s Avion – 25 years old, good kid. Has a different kinda style – fresh and innovative. It’s like the stuff I did with Eric B. and Rakim, it’s Eric B. and Avion. I overseen the whole thing, put the whole thing together, did production with a whole bunch of new producers.
How did you discover him?
I’ve been looking for a while for somebody unique, something different, somebody sayin’ something than the regular stuff that everybody says all day. One of these guys – name’s Tim – he bought to me and said, ‘Eric, I’ve found a guy, man. He’s from Brooklyn…has a unique style’. Then we got in the studio and met and just started working.
Can you discuss your community center work?
I have a community center in Newark, New Jersey where we have boxing – boxing is run by Larry Hazzard, the New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner. We have karate over here that’s run by the Assistant Police Chief – Eddie ‘Fruitkwan’ Brown. We have a computer lab here, and I run the studio. So the kids come in and get their homework and stuff done, then they go to the various programs from there. It’s a joint venture we did with the Housing Authority.
Just to give the kids something to do and keep them out of trouble?
Exactly. They had a lotta violence in Newark, New Jersey. Just to keep the kids straight, keep in school, keep them out of trouble.
Rap’s Ultimate Tough Guy – Round 2
It’s one thing to talk tough in the recording booth, but who’s got the stones to take it outside?