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Photo courtesy of Stephanie Weiss Publicity

Bragging Rights: An Interview With Kool Keith

The alien MC speaks about where he's come from, where he's going, and how many of his verses may never see the light of day.
Kool Keith
Feature Magnetic
Mello Music Group

In 1998 I was in college and I took a course in fiction writing. Early on in the semester our teacher went around the class and asked us who our favorite fictional characters were. I mentioned Dr. Octagon and explained that he was an outer space gynecologist invented by this rapper I had recently discovered named Kool Keith. Since the ’90s a new Kool Keith record is always an event.

Kool Keith is a prolific New York MC who has been recording since 1988. Perhaps you know him as Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Mr. Nogatco, Tashan Dorrsett, Spankmaster, Poppa Large, Crazy Lou, Black Elvis, Matthew, Keith Televasquez, Keith Turbo, Dr. Ultra, Reverend Tom, Keith Korg, and so many others I can’t recall. Then there’s all the groups: Ultramagnetic MC’s, Diesel Truckers, Thee Undatakerz, The Cenobites, and The Analog Brothers for example.

I once read an article where he told the interviewer he was going to make a record called “The Shopaholic” about taking women shopping. I don’t think it happened but the idea album was funny enough for me. With the release of Feature Magnetic, PopMatters caught up with Keith in his local diner in the Bronx to discuss pretty much everything.

* * *

Given that you’re putting out like a record a year, sometimes two records a year, you must work a lot. What’s the workday like?

I just naturally like to record. To me I think making records is very therapeutic for myself. I make records natural. I make records seriously for the time that I’m making them, but I feel good making them. I’m not phony making them. I’m really making those songs. For me I’m not trying to make them for a record label or something. It’s like Prince working on the songs that end up on his album.

So do you write in a notebook and prepare your stuff ahead of time? Do you record at home? How do you do it?

I write a lot of songs without the beats, then what would happen is that the song becomes a song. But when I get to the studio I don’t know what beat I’m gonna make for it. It’s like the song is done before the beat. I find the atmosphere for the music.

You often do the beats on them. The ones that sound real minimal. I can tell when you’re working with someone else. The beats sound really expansive on them.

Oh yeah.

Do you have a home studio set-up?

I work at a studio. The stuff I usually make is not overproduced, you can hear the vocals in the rapping.

Yeah.

I take a particular groove and turn it into a loop. Things might come every certain bars, it keeps coming but it’s like a groove for the rapper.

You don’t seem to use a lot of samples though. Seems like it’s more keyboard tracks.

I have a few special songs I might have sampled. The only thing I sample sometimes is maybe a record that hasn’t been used. I sample something by someone that is totally way above. I don’t sample somebody where they’re kind of like equal or down below me. Kind of like The Commodores or something.

I thought I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra on one of the new songs “Stratocaster”.

I played that, but I will sample something that is totally unclearable.

How does that work do you have lawyers that do that?

I rap on something that is totally unclearable but I don’t put it out. I keep it for myself. Know what I’m sayin’?

Right. So if something is unclearable can you put it on a mixtape without legal problems?

You won’t have any legal problems. You know I rap on “Heatwave” or something or “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” or something for fun.

The new record is all guest spots: DOOM, Ras Kass, Necro, and several others. Was that the concept of it? To put together a group of guys you wanted to work with? How does that work for you?

Well, I wanted to bring a lot of guys into my element. To let them know there’s a lot of different stuff you can do. So the stuff I did with them was more like we met halfway in each element. Those are some of the rappers I like, some of my favorite rappers I like. It was good to get them all on songs. It also proved me for my production. People feel like there are certain people that wouldn’t rap on your songs.

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Thank you.

I remember you did a song with Doom quite a while ago. On his song “Doper Skiller”.

I remember [KutMasta] Kurt had the beat for me to rap on. It was one of his beats but the point was like he sent the beat to Kurt. I always collaborated with other rappers but it was never on my beats. I always had to be out of my element. I think this project was a chance for me to work with all these other people on the stuff that I do. For a lot of years I sacrificed working on other people’s production. Which I never disrespected. I like everybody’s production. I like L’Orange, I like Automator, Kurt did stuff in the past.

L’Orange stuff was very different. I noticed longer samples with jazz loops and stuff but not in that corny way that people usually do that. You know what I mean?

I mean I didn’t mind, but when you working with other people you gotta compromise to what they doing.

Right.

When you do your own stuff there’s a little more flexibility.

You know, the one I liked in recent years was the one you did with Ray West.

Oh yeah. Ray West was more like basement tapes. He usually do beats for AG. I used to come over his house and hang out. That was more like he had a lot of beats. Ray West would sample a disco record or something. It didn’t have to be boom bap or trap. He would just sample anything.

Whatever sounded right.

He would sample Instant Funk or something. You know, anything that just had a good loop to it. He was a good loop sampler. A lot of his stuff was more rapped on because I would be there hanging out and like the beat. It wasn’t for a particular project or record. I would just rap on it because I’m a true rapper and it becomes classic basement stuff.

What do you mean by basement stuff?

Stuff like you know, you got a friend and you made tracks. The world don’t know about it but you got these tracks you just record.

The stuff dudes do together when they get together to have fun? Not serious.

Yeah, not serious. Stuff you write three verses for. It’s just fun. It’s not for Columbia, not for Sony. Just you naturally recording. At some particular point you gotta have some artistry. You can’t make a record based on what record company it’s gonna be on. I think that was the problem I had with KutMasta Kurt. Kurt always made a project that had to be for something.

He couldn’t just get together to just make a song?

He couldn’t make a song without it coming out on something. Not like “let’s get together.” It has to be for a label or has to be constructed for the Dragonfly movie coming out. Some guys get too involved and the creativity drips out of them, the fun. With Ray I had like more natural records. Ultra was the same way. They didn’t wanna make records for fun, naturally like Prince and just stacking records up. They all had to make twelve songs for a label, or they getting a deal or some money. Automator: even though he always behind Octagon, but he’ll do some fun songs. Instead of focusing on Octagon. Know what I’m saying?

Yeah.

I like people who tend to step outside the box. So Ray was a guy I would do some random tracks with. There’s no reason they coming out. If they come out they come out on a bootleg 12″ or whatever. He might get a collab to come on it. Somebody might pop up on the song. You know, just by accident. Know what I’m saying? Kurious Jorge might come over and rap on it. It wasn’t a planned record.

I recall Automator has a lot of those kinda tracks like from A Much Better Tomorrow: “Cartoon Capers” and “It’s Over Now”. Those are great songs.

“Starting All Over Now” by Slave.

That’s a Slave sample? I didn’t recognize it.

Yeah. [sings it] Certain records I rapped on. “It’s Over Now” was something else. It was a cool little loop, a video of a little boy dancing on it. You ever see it? It’s a little Chinese kid? There’s a video for it.

No I haven’t.

Those are songs we made after Octagon was finished. It was like let’s make a song tonight. It’s not going on a label, let’s just hit it. It could end up a B-side, it could end up at a label or just something to play.

Do you find you work better when it’s not so planned like that?

Oh yeah.

When you’re just kind of relaxed and free? In those situations do you freestyle and improvise a lot? Do you work out of a notebook?

I make good songs with a deadline. I make good songs without the deadline. Most of these guys make songs for the deadline, I just wanted to get out of that phase you know? Sometimes I tend to do my own projects because it’s like a disease to me to be stuck, when you can only make a record for money or “Hey, finish these 12 songs and turn them into Atlantic!” I don’t like that. I mean I like it, hey I’m a professional. I’ll do the song, but I don’t always want to do my life like that.

Bragging Rights With Kool Keith – Page 2

Yeah, it’s too regimented. Too planned out. And it stifles creativity, like you can’t go anywhere weird and new.

It seems like I make those twelve songs and I’ll just cut my life off for the rest of the year. I make those twelve songs and then you don’t hear me make songs for another five years until a record company says it’s time to make a record. A lot of artists got like that in the music business. They dipped into that phase like turn in those 12 songs every other year and it got kind of messed up with creativity. There’s a lot of artists out there that you would want to hear more all year round. You take a guy like Jay-Z for instance. You’d like to hear more songs from him, record more.

He’s too bound up in corporate contracts to just say “I’m gonna do a song and put it out tomorrow.”

Yeah, well just in general. Even Nas, all of them guys. You wanna hear them guys more, but they got caught up with Columbia and Sony which I was on those same labels, but like it’s easy to get captured in that range. It feels like someone is pressing on your chest. It feels like anxiety, I don’t like that.

That’s only one way to work. I heard this referred to as the masterpiece syndrome which means that everything you do has to be a masterpiece. Like you can’t just do a little sketch.

Yeah, same with Dr. Dre. It would be cool if he just threw some beats out sometimes. You know, like a lot of people wanted to be Quincy Jones. It’s like you know when you go to the studio with those old guys. What’s the name of that guy who did Chic?

Nile Rodgers?

Yeah, Nile Rodgers or those guys are so prone to doing the perfect record. Quincy Jones and them like when you get older, the kids put out records tonight. They put out records tomorrow.

Yeah.

They put out a record right now which is a more fun way of doing it. Then they can send it out to a label or whatever. Now they like, “You know, we go by the golden rule, the record going to come out 17 December and we gotta get Joe Schmo to come in and blow the horn on it. We gotta get Mickey Mantle to come in and play guitar and it’s gonna be a hot record and Sister Soulja to sing on it and Bobby White is going to play the trumpet on it.” It get’s to be too much.

It’s too much of a production.

It’s too much shit. You gotta wait for Bobby White, gotta wait for this guy to play his synthesizer. It takes the fun out of music, man. Then it’s like these people enjoy the song? You think about some of these people who worked on the song, people that’s gonna be working on the production of it, people that’s around the song, eventually over the course of time people get sick. Some people even die over the course of that song. You have a lot of people around that song saying, [old man voice] “When is this going to get done? The drummer to that track died. He couldn’t hang in there that long.”

That’s just me being sarcastic [old man voice again] “The horn player got his arm amputated and he can’t play the horn.” You know that’s a lot of shit that goes on waiting for all those songs. Guys who I consider assholes, after a while that shit gets to be corny. It’s just corny.

Yeah, it’s terrible. Overblown.

When they come out with the music, it sounds like bullshit. Know what I’m saying?

It’s too commercial. The way you work and the way the kids work reminds me of how punk bands used to be in the ’80s. Put out stuff constantly for the people who love it, not for the corporate douchebags. That’s really what it is about.

And these guys say to artists that came up like that. Say an artist you came up with end up getting a job that’s higher ranking. They become an A&R. They become head of operations. Their mind is like a program to do the same thing Quincy Jones did.

They duplicate.

They ready to tell their artists, “I don’t like the note you hit on that and maybe we can bring in Frank Harbinton. Maybe tighten up your vocals and he’s sing background with you.” It’s the same shit. They turn it like that. The people that made it hard for them to get in. They turn into those people.

The Personal Album. I think that one is the most underrated. I read that you had made like 500 copies of it and gave it to girls?

Yeah, uh-huh. The Personal Album, I made that and gave it to girls.

That’s really funny. I’m glad that’s true. Are there any that you like to revisit? Are there any that stand out as a favorite? Are there any you feel the most for?

I like everything I ever did. I got a lot of tracks I never released. I got a lot of tracks I put on the side. There’s a lot of tracks I made just for myself. I have millions of songs for myself. I have volumes of personal albums. I got songs I collaborated with other people. I did songs at people’s houses that they holding. They waiting for me to have some tragedy or whatever then they pull the song out. So I got all kinds of songs everywhere. I think people save songs. If anyone saves songs it’s me who saves songs, but some people just save songs to hold them. An artist may have only two or three verses unreleased. You know what’s funny? People put those songs out when you get hot or something. Say you do a track with Adele, everyone who had the hidden tracks…

So lots of people are holding on to tracks that you did in different sessions. Do you find that older tracks are coming out without you being aware of it sorta?

All the time. Tracks start coming out that you forgot you even made.

I can see that because you can be traveling and be at some guys house you don’t see often.

And you do a song with him, but I’ve done that. I’ve had songs that I recorded … I’m not like a paperwork artist until later. I might record something with somebody where we’ll handle it later or something. I think a lot of people take that for granted. They feel like, “Oh, I can run away with the record because he came over and had a couple of beers and did the song on a whim.” But when you really should have just done paperwork and been like “I signed like ten papers and call some people before I started even recording.” I try to not to be such a stiff person. A lot of artists are stiff.

Yeah.

Most of these guys are working through a lot of agents and stuff. They got a stiff robot way of doing everything. Know what I’m saying?

Yeah.

I think that’s true. A lot of artists wanna make money on features and stuff like that. Keep their corporate edge and everything they do to make money, but I think sometimes you don’t gotta be all like that. There’s certain things you need to do to stay relevant. Make a couple of songs and throw them out as treats then you go back business.

One for them, one for you.

One for them, one for you. Do a treat song. Around Christmas you might throw out a freestyle for everybody. I think some of these guys are too stiff and your life is not promised to you forever to be as stiff.

Yeah. You miss out on these creative moments when you’re not flexible enough.

Yeah and these people live in vain. They think they gonna live forever. They take five to six years to make an album, living every year with millions and millions of dollars. You start thinking you immortal. Like “Well, I got some money: I can wait another 20 years to put the album out.” You don’t know where you might be. You might be dead or something. People drop dead then they not aware of all the actors dropping dead around them like flies. “This is CNN: such and such has just died.” You know what I’m sayin’? But they looking at it more like, “I got so much money” that in 30 years I can you know I can go see Dr Sebi and like add 30 years to my life. And he’s dead so like Dr. Sebi can’t help you. You know? So they start believing those beliefs.

Is Dr. Sebi one you just made up?

No, Dr. Sebi is dead. He’s the doctor that all the celebrities coming to for everlasting life.

Oh ok.

Then they pass away. Everybody used to fly down to the Caribbean to try and see him. Trying to get some life.

Trying to get an extension.

Yeah, trying to get an extension. He adds like 90 years to your life, but evidently … look it up. I heard he passed.

OK, I’ll look into it.

Yeah look it up. I think I read on the internet he passed. He was like some kind of black witch doctor or something like that. Everyone went down to see him and shit.

So you go down to the Caribbean and he gives you a healing? Like a charlatan or a thief.

Yeah. Aaliyah went to see him. A few people went to see him.

I guess she got cursed.

Yeah: going to see him. Know what I’m sayin?

Yeah. So I wanna talk a little about the video stuff. I’ve noticed The Kool Keith Show. What’s the deal with The Kool Keith Show are there more coming out?

They were just random snippets of what I was doing. That was another thing. Just me having fun. I didn’t have a strategic network to do that stuff.

Yeah, it looked like it was fun. Looked like you were putting on wigs.

Yeah, I do a lot of fun stuff in my life. I don’t really care. Sometimes I let stuff go. People worry about things that I don’t worry about like “Yo, you should chase that guy down for that sixteen bars or something that verse he got in like Texas” or something. I’m like the guy has no label. He has no distribution, it’s like your voice. You can’t keep track of everything of your voice. I think, sometimes I look at papers and verses are sometimes free, because you write them. I don’t know when verses got so corporate.

That’s interesting.

Bragging Rights With Kool Keith – Page 3

Because you write a verse. It’s something you wrote. It’s like a lot of guys like you said, who came up in the golden age, they seem like that verse is they whole life. They can’t write another verse or they need it to feed their family, they need it bad, or like they need every dime. I’ve even had rappers that I helped more on tracks than myself and they wanted money from me more, but when I rhymed on their stuff they feel like they didn’t make fair trades and stuff.

Right, because there are lots of tracks with you on it. Even with people you wouldn’t have thought.

I rapped on a lot of tracks with artists who would say, “I owe you this,” but then don’t feel it’s a fair trade. That’s how it is with a lot of artists I made songs with and different people that I helped. They feel like it’s cool for you to rap on a lot of stuff but when it’s time to return favors it’s like, “Yo, would you be on these verses?” That’s not cool. Like you could rap on they stuff for free. They had to develop that.

Yeah. That’s very entitled.

People start to see my work ethic. People saw my work ethic and then they abused that because people could see it don’t take me long to do a song. They cut the hours down in the studio. I should have kept everybody else. People started to see I take an hour to write a verse. People feel like you gotta pay for the whole day of studio which evidently you need it. You can’t tell people what you do good. You can’t tell someone you can paint the house with two cans of paint. Then they won’t give you ten cans of paint.

In most cases.

The average guy would use ten cans of paint and if you told him that being nice you can just do two cans. That’s what they do to me musically.

Cost vs. labor.

Money-wise with studio time, “We give you an hour and a half in the studio.” The artist will feel like they don’t gotta pay that much for the work. It’s like sometimes a guy could give you a dope beat and then you can rap on that for free and it’s good. A guy can pay you, but he will pay less than and the beat is more or less easier. A guy could give you a beat that’s “Bap-bup-bap-bah” and he’ll pay you less. It’s a harder beat to work on and he pay you less.

Why is that?

I don’t know why. A guy with an easier beat pays you more money and the guy with the harder beat wanna pay you less. You gotta figure it out, the track. I gotta figure out what I’m gonna say.

Do you ever do the reverse thing where you find a beat then try to rhyme to it? Do you work out of a notebook and say, “Well I’m going to try to have something for this I already made?”

What happens is like from years and years of Ultramagnetic (editor’s note: Ultramagnetic MC’s is Keith’s old group), Ced (Ced-Gee) not giving me beats and Trev (Trevor Randolph), I used to feel like “I need beats.” What happened was I developed the cadence without the beat that I use all the time that would automatically fit tracks. That’s what I developed and it fits. So what would happen is over years all the stuff I wrote started naturally fitting the beats because I never had beats. I had to beg for beats. It was hard to get the beats.

Instead of stopping my writing I just kept writing. I had an imaginary metronome in my head. I could write stuff. 99 percent of my music fits to all my beats, no matter what’s programmed with the hi-hats going. It’s just me learning the rhythm for the tracks. If you got in a car and didn’t know how to drive it. If I left my papers here you could read it but wouldn’t know where to pause or start.

That’s the musical part.

Yeah.

You know there’s the intellectual part, which is writing the stuff out. The performance is a different process.

You remember that movie where the people would steal Knight Rider? They would get in the car and nobody knew how it worked.

Yeah, and people just got it and it went. [laughs]

If I left my lyrics and another rapper picked them up I think it’s anti-lock.

They couldn’t crack the code on that. They could read it but not get the musical part.

They be like [flatly] “I-said-scientific-keith-when-drop” they won’t know it. They could read it but they try to read it to the way they thought it would be. They would probably cut off a word here.

It’s funny.

Like I write “the” different. I might write “ina” as I-N-A. They don’t know what those little words connect to so then I might put two words on a line because I don’t write a whole sentence. I might write “The boy went to the store,” but it could be in five lines because it’s like I’m reading the rhythm. They don’t have the rhythm.

You can even give it to the best MC in the world and it would be off, sorta wrong. It’s not about whether an MC is good.

I can leave it in a room full of rappers.

[laughs] That would be a good experiment to run.

[laughs] You can leave the rhyme page in a room with ten top rappers. You could leave it for two days and say, “Lay the track down.” They wouldn’t know. I’ve left raps in the studio many times and I would talk to the engineer. They would say, “Old such and such came in here. They looked at your lyrics they put them down. They just sat them to the side,” Because it’s like anti-lock anyway.

Yeah.

It’s like “What the fuck is this?” Know what I’m saying. I can’t do that with a lot of other rappers raps too!

It works the other way too.

They got they shit slanted. Some people rap on paper bags so I think it’s always anti-lock.

Do you freestyle a lot?

Yeah, I mean I can do that for people. For years I’ve always been put on the spot by radio stations.

I remember the HOT 97 one.

Oh yeah, with Everlast up there.

No-no it was the one where you were calling Xzibit “Everlast”. It was Xzibit!

[laughs]

[laughs] And you kept calling Xzibit “Everlast”! He was like “Check the ice! It’s Xzibit”

What happened was I think I was so champagned up that night and Xzibit was with me all day but for some reason the “E” was … you know how sometimes at a place for a moment it’s like your body and mind are so happy? I was excited to be at the station. You make a mistake and call somebody another name? It was close you be like Barry, but you mean Vinnie! Barry and Vinnie is the same as Everlast/ Xzibit. And I know Xzibit for years. It’s just that your mind be so overwhelmed at the station at the same time you have an interview, you’re on HOT 97 it just fucks with your brain. Everlast i didn’t really know, I had drunk like a 40 oz, two forty ounces and everything. If I were sober I would have just said “Yo, Xzibit”.

Yeah.

Freestyle was always an end for me to rap at shows and to record. I definitely conquered the freestyle world. It was good to work with Statik Selektah, the Baker Boys freestyle in California, freestyle with the Wake Up Show back when I was with Chino XL in LA. Now I feel more like I don’t have to do it. I may just walk up to a station and I may not want to freestyle. They can never look back at the past and say, “You don’t have a record for freestyle.” I did it. I’m finished with that, I’m producing now.


The other thing is that I think you’re from a time in The Bronx where that was survival. Battle was so much a part of hip-hop at that time.

People can look at my background with Ced, Scott LaRock and KRS we would all be at Ced’s house with Tim Dog and we came together. We was like a house full of rappers already that was good. KRS was with another group. I still remember the story when he was not yet with Boogie Down Productions. He was with three other guys; The Celebrity Three.

I’ve heard that but never heard anything that they recorded.

People thought KRS was a solo artist. He used to be with a group.

When you were a kid and all this was happening who were the first guys you saw doing it in the Bronx that you felt something for.

Well, I always walked the street with Kenny Pounder, Kenny Pounder made it Cold Crush Brothers. I wasn’t rapping yet, I was dancing. I would always see Melle Mel and them. They was like inspiration. When I would see Melle Mel they would have on these clothes. It’s a small world but my boy Mick who lived in LA made their clothes. I remember seeing them in a Mercedes Benz. Remember when 190 was popular or 190e was popular?

I never followed cars.

So what happened was, I remember I used to see Melle Mel and them in 1’90s and stuff and I was like “Wow, that’s really big.” They had all that leather and stuff on. Flash would have the jewelry and hat, tassels hanging off the leather jackets and stuff. I would see them and was like “Wow, that’s really big” and that’s what it was being a rapper. You come out with that stuff on and go to the Roxy and be big. Scorpio would have the braids with the little beads on the bottom. I used to see them when I was younger but I never said nothing to them. I never approached them. I would just see them get out of cars or something. It would be like, “There’s the Furious Five” over there. You would see them walking.

Those were the local celebrities.

You would see Kid Creole with his hair braided or Melle Mel or something. They were like Cameo of The Bronx or something. Like Earth Wind and Fire in the Bronx.

Bragging Rights With Kool Keith – Page 4

Hip-hop had a lot of leather then.

It did until Run DMC came out with the hats and all that. The Adidas and stuff. They were more like a funk band from The Bronx. They were like Con Funk Shun in the Bronx.

(laughs) The Gap Band, The Isleys.

I would see them and they were wearing that shit in the streets.

That was a generation before you.

They wasn’t like at night they would wear a ballcap or something. They would wear that in the street they had a lot of stuff made. They would be on the album covers with it, on the streets with it in different colors. They could walk in here. You could see Melle Mel getting a burger or something. They had a lot of those clothes made for anywhere they go. You would see them pull over and walk into the liquor store with all that shit.

It wasn’t stage costume, it was everyday gear.

Bootsy! I don’t know. Does he walk around like that?

I don’t know. I’ve never seen him without it.

Does he wear it off camera. They would wear that shit, you would see them on the corner.

I was in LA and I saw Willie Chambers from the Chambers Brothers at House of Pies I think.

OK.

Wearing all white. Like a white leather suit. He’s doing the thing offstage we’re talking about.

I used to see umm.. Magic Bishop Juan. He was off camera too. I think he was wearing green shirt, glasses off camera.

It’s cool. I like that.

I don’t know if Bootsy wear the star glasses and all that. When they was out and they was hot he was wearing that shit. Anyway on Fordham Road you’d see Grandmaster Flash with a German hat on. Other guy’s a captain, looks like he came off a flight. Not gay like The Village People.

But similar.

With tassels hanging down. But they made it street.

They made it masculine I think.

But they get out on 125th St. in Harlem with the same leather shit on.

And no one’s saying anything.

No one is saying anything. Other people are like “That’s Flash, that’s Melle Mel”. They had presence.

Rap doesn’t have presence like that now.

Rappers now look like a bum.

It’s just regular.

Well, well a rapper now looks like a bum. A rapper in Atlanta or something has presence. They have jewelry. They got the dreadlocks.

A little more showmanship.

They got a little more showmanship, like you look at Future and them they got presence. A New York rapper kinda lost it with like the Yankee Cap and the dirty T-shirt. Rappers were still fly even when LL and them came out. It was fly with Big Daddy Kane, Caz and them. You look at those pictures of the godfathers. They did shows in tuxedos.

Kurtis Blow, it was different, because they were coming out of that 60s showbiz style like black vocal groups.

Even Herc was wearing flared pants and big godfather hats with feathers in them. Mean Gene and all them. Everyone was wearing big gangsta fedoras on and like leather jackets and bombers, sheepskins. This new bummy shit, I don’t know where that came from with the dirty t-shirt and Yankee hat. That grime shit killed the presence of it. I guess back then we wasn’t getting robbed. These guys think the tough guy dirty look is in style. I think Atlanta came to New York. The rappers from there with the mink coats. Southern rappers from Miami. I think those guys took rap and brought rap back to dressing with jewelry. I mean Pun is the only one here in New York. French Montana got some nice chains, nice Cuban shirts like Fat Joe and them. They still catch that Versace presence.

Yeah, yeah that’s like that ’90s Biggie thing.

Yeah, like Versace shirts and stuff. Chains and the Cuban shirts. That’s good. In LA always had more like a Carhart, gangbanger Dickies suit looking t-shirt. They always had a west coast Pendleton look.

I think those guys looked good. They had their own thing. I like when people have their own thing.

New York left rap. To me rap was more like flamboyant images. Even when Ultra was out, even when Rakim was out.

On Critical Beatdown, that jacket.

Yeah, yeah.

Were you part of the group who went to Dapper Dan’s?

Yeah, yeah I remember when he made them for us. We went in there and he made them.

That’s cool. That was the hot stuff.

Eric B and Rakim had it. Kane had them. Even drug dealers, remember Alpo had a Louis Vuitton that he made him.

It made sense. They were both doing similar things. Showmanship.

I was saying to my friend that back in the days that a drug dealer looked like a rapper and a rapper looked like a drug dealer. They both had a similar image. Other people were making the image. Like a boxer looks like a rapper should. Floyd Mayweather looked like a rapper should look. He walks around, he put a hat on, a baseball cap with diamonds, a custom made alligator jacket. He looks like a rapper should look. Know what I’m saying?

Well …

You know not to be disrespectful of other cultures but they made other things become rap like there should be naturalism in rap, like have a shirt with psychedelic colors in it.

Oh yeah..

Like afro-centric. You should wear like a long gown or something. You know a dashiki in rap. It just took a lot of stuff out. It took the pure essence of b-boying. Rappers wanted to be a mink coat with a ballcap. Like you know, wrestling kept their image.

(laughs) Right.

You know the image.

It doesn’t change much. It’s just some pants and a cape.

Yeah, and the girls coming in. Wrestling kept the image. Rap lost its image.

You notice now a lot of the kids aren’t dressing real street anymore. Like they’re taking acid.

It’s the skinny pants look came. They put on more of the tighter pants and the leggings.

Yeah. They started taking on more skater styles.

Yeah, like skaters with skinny pants …

You come here a lot?

Yeah, yeah this is my spot sometimes. This used to be a rapper’s spot. Way back in the ’80s.

Really?

It was big after the clubs. Used to be a guy here with a chain on, a Spanish guy. It used to be like a hip-hop afterparty, like at night on Saturday or Sunday. It was the trendiest spot. Not a bad spot with cops being here, but after clubs let out.

Because it’s open.

Like you know the one on 14th st. downtown used to be the hip-hop diner?

No.

I forgot what it was called.

May be before my time.

It was a diner everyone would go to.

These stories that come out. These are regional stories.

Yeah it’s kind of like Willy Burgers in Harlem. Another hip-hop spot where everyone would get burgers. I would never wait over there. It’s too crowded. I didn’t want a burger that bad. I was never a guy who wait to get the latest hamburger.

I don’t do it.

A trendy place on a Friday or Saturday night. I will go by there but it seemed so packed.

I feel like I’m too cool to wait on that kind of line.

Yeah, that’s it. I’m too cool to wait. I’m like you. Too cool to wait for a hamburger that long. [laughs] Yeah I wasn’t the kind of guy who have a convertible to pull over there and stop and talk to girls. It was like a pickup spot to get numbers. I seen it for years. I pass it going home but I would never go to the trendy hamburger spot. I just get something to eat across the street. Those are the kind of places that are dangerous. Waiting for a hamburger might get you killed.

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