Music

Locked and Loaded: Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud Discuss Their Classic 1988 Hip-Hop Debut

From the cover of Girls I Got 'Em Locked (Elektra / DNA, 1988)

Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud's Girls I Got 'Em Locked exuded the right amount of urban flair, boyishly sly humour, and club appeal when it was released back in 1988.

In the late '80s, they rode the cresting wave of the hip-hop duos. Likely born from the synergistic energy produced by seminal acts like Eric B. & Rakim, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud were one of many rap duos competing for a place at the DJ's turntable. They hit one nifty cut out of the park with the snappishly urban strut of "Do the James", a jam that tipped its hat to the legendary James Brown as well as the hyperkinetic basement hip-hop parties that were especially popular in the Bronx at the time. The single's parent album, Girls I Got 'Em Locked (Elektra / DNA, 1988) has now faded into semi-obscurity but remains a much sought after cult relic, its availability now rather slim (at least in physical format) since its deletion for nearly these last two decades.

There's much to lament about the album's lack of visibility. Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud, respectively, articulated a delivery that was fresh, walking a fine line between machismo and pop-smart – a balance they held admirably in 1988, when they first hit the scene. Judiciously combining a number of well-chosen ingredients, Girls I've Got 'Em Locked is a sharp mix of gritty turntablist funk, hustling and bustling street rhymes, and a touch of bubblegum pop. It exudes the right amount of urban flair, boyishly sly humour and club appeal to satiate any vinyl-pimping junkie's appetite, despite its 30 plus years of (albeit minimal) circulation.

Produced in turn by Casanova Rud (born Erik Rudnicki), Super Lover Cee (Calente Fredrick) and the late and legendary hip-hop producer Paul C. McKasty, Girls I've Got 'Em Locked covers all the hip-hop prerequisites; boastful narratives, propulsive rhythms and clever samples. But it also pushes for a little something more that gives it its distinctive quality. Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud generate, between them, a roguish charm that owes much to their underground rearing. Unlike, say, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, who hit pop-market paydirt with their inoffensive, suburban pop-rap, Rud and Cee took their chaffed, rough-hewn grooves and stealthily slid them under pop music's door with a few well-chosen hooks.

The first half of the album is all bare bones simplicity: beats, voice and just a few spare snatches of melody. From the screeching brass cuts of the opening track "I'm Back" to the horny rhymes on the gummy groove of "Girls Act Stupid-Aly", Cee and Rud manage much mileage from the minimal sources of which they pull together their tunes. Most of the rhymes come courtesy of Cee, who radiates a cold, brash confidence, flipping lines coolly over the grinding beats with booming clarity. Rud's vocal contributions are rather scant on the album, but he remains a complimentary element to his other half, a raging spark to the lively explosions that Cee spits. When Rud does get the entire stage, as on "All You MC's", his rhymes ribbon over the pumped funk with sucka-shouldering charisma.

Exploring the full concave of influences that hip-hop had to offer at the time, Girls I Got 'Em Locked employs a host of rhythms and sonic tonalities to round out the album. The descending bass stomps of "Gets No Deeper" momentarily sober the album's party atmosphere to further reveal the kind of chest-puffing lyricism that the duo is best appreciated for. "Pump it Back" is Brill Building hip-hop pushing along a breathless blast of lyrical bravado, the chugging rhythms circling around the rhymes of sexploit. It closes out Side A of the album on a remarkable note, pointing a sure finger toward the ghettoblasting delights to be found on Side B.

The album's second half is considerably more beefed up in its production, leaning less on the pop exploits of the first half and more on hip-hop's boombox designs. The cavernous snare hits of the title-track remain at once locked in its frame of nostalgic posterity and iridescently fresh and timeless. McKasty, whose golden hand has twisted knobs on many classic hip-hop productions, lends that hand on the album's tightest track "I Gotta Good Thing"; over a satisfyingly chunky groove and bluesy, melodic riffs, Cee flows smoothly and assuredly, at once shaping and establishing his lyrical craft to even higher plateaus.

"Come and Get Some", a scratching cacophony of DJ cuts, overlaid funk samples and relentlessly driving beats, returns the listener to the graffiti-plastered Bronx warehouses where such jams were born. There's the regal, self-congratulatory nod of "Super-Casanova", full of sing-along refrains and turntablist percussion, before the album's climactic and gratifying sign-off, "Do the James". Stamping their John Hancock all over hip-hop's legacy with this number, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud offer the best of their synergistic unison here. A loping, seductive groove that swings down to bassy depths and back up to hi-hat highs, "Do the James" is a top-rocking paean to the Godfather of Soul; a b-boy callout blaring from the back lots of '80s Seabury Place. The song's loop has since become widely recognized in hip-hop history, utilized in countless hip-hop productions as well as pop-rock ones, most notably and recently on J. Cole's "Wet Dreamz".

An unfortunate legal wrangling following the untimely death of McKasty caused a delay in the release of new material for the two rappers. Dropped from their parent label Elektra and without management, the duo struggled to find a new home base. A deal with Wild Pitch Records resulted in the thunderously booming follow-up Blow Up the Spot in 1993, a seven-track EP of harder-edged, jazz-inflected hip-hop that not only upped the ante for the pair, but finally allotted more mic-time for Rud to show off his slash-and-burn spit-game. Every bit as juicy, dynamic and swaggering as its predecessor, Blow Up the Spot should have reinstated the duo into the constantly growing hip-hop scene. Instead, with the little attention it received and the aborted promotional attempts, it disappeared from the radar quickly and soon the two rappers turned their interests elsewhere.

More than 30 years on, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud are still getting name-checked as influential figureheads of hip-hop's golden years. Members of Digable Planets and Eminem are reportedly fans, as well as Nas, who favourably namedrops them on one of his tracks.

Girls I Got 'Em Locked is currently and lamentably out-of-print in physical format, only having been recently reissued digitally. Both Cee and Rud continue to write and record separately (though they remain friends), while tending to family responsibilities. Rud can be heard trading rhymes with his young son, also a rapper, who records as Tom Savage, on a number of tracks. Cee has turned his hand to radio-hosting and web design, whilst still writing new material on the side.

Both rappers discuss with PopMatters their early years in hip-hop culture and the success of their watershed debut, Girls I Got 'Em Locked.

Where did you grow up and what was life like for you then?

Casanova Rud: I was born on August 5th, 1968 in Manhattan in the Lower East Side, by product of multiracial parents (mother of color and father was Polish) at a time when society wasn't ready for that type of relationship.

I remember at a young age, around seven or eight, listening to my parents playing music in the living room, from jazz, blues, to the Doobie Brothers, which undoubtedly influenced and propelled my passion for music. I can't say that life was good growing up then, recalling how my parents weren't getting along, which affected my behavior in a negative way; I lashed out often, rebelling against people, school and my father.

My parents separated and I moved with my grandparents in Jamaica, Queens, which was a culture shock. I was a city kid used to living in an apartment building with fire escapes and people yelling and screaming out the window. [Then I moved] to a neighborhood with houses with backyards, two cars in the driveway, grass and trees. It was like moving to the country.

Church played a part in my upbringing with my grandparents, while my mother was raising my sister in Astoria Queens. I can say each piece played a major part in my development, education and current conscious state of awakening.

Can you give some background to your very beginnings in hip-hop? What got you into it and when did you start writing and rhyming?

Rud: It all started in Astoria Houses (Projects) in Queens where I used to hear DJs in the park spinning records, scratching, and MCs alongside. I must have been around nine or ten-years-old when I used to sneak outside at night to go to the jams in the park. Hearing and seeing the Disco Twins, DJ Hollywood, TNT, amongst a few. I was always the nosy little kid begging to get on the 1 and 2's, only to be pushed away by the ones I admired. It fuelled my passion to become a DJ and MC.

Radio shows like the Awesome Two, D.N.A, Hank Love, Mister Magic, DJ Red Alert, Marley, and Chuck Chillout were heavy influences on me. Queens Bridge Houses was only ten blocks away, which was a hotbed for hip-hop, which played a major part in influencing my interests as well. I later went on to make my own demo with the person who taught me everything about producing and mixing tracks, Paul C. McKasty.

Super Lover Cee: While attending high school, (William Cullen Bryant), I used to sing the lyrics to the Sugar Hill Gang "Rappers Delight", as I knew the lyrics to the entire song. I would get a request from a few friends to sing the song at least once a day.

I saw the popularity it created, so I started to come up with my own lyrics. During my school lunch hour, I would bang out a beat on the table while singing my new lyrics. It drew lots of attention. I was also intrigued by the DJs and rappers at the jams in the park. After attending a few, I decided that I would take a shot at writing lyrics for the purpose of making a record. I had to pay my dues in the game first, so I attended a few rap contests at a local roller-skating rink called United Skates of America, where I was encouraged by Jerry Waterman, the skating rink manager.

Marshall Amp tookapic (CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay)

How did the two of you meet?

Rud: We were best friends that lived in the same building growing up playing football, video games and chilling with girls. We grew up in the same hip-hop environment. We were always listening to the radio together, acting like we were MCs and DJs. We used to throw parties in the community center where we lived, where we displayed our early talents. We also used to enter into contests against other rappers. We even battled against each other, as we weren't a group together at that time. But we were still best friends.

Cee: I met Casanova Rud at the Astoria Housing Projects in Long Island City, New York in the eighties. He was a football fan like me and we became friends on the field.

Your debut album Girls I Got 'Em Locked was released in 1988, during the rise of hip-hop's crossover into the mainstream. Firstly, what do you remember about writing and recording that album? What kinds of ideas went into making this album, both musically and lyrically? And secondly, how did you get signed to Elektra Records?

Rud: In regards to "Girls I Got em Locked" the song, as well as "Do the James" and "Super-Casanova" they were all recorded in 1212 studios with Paul C McKasty. Paul crafted our sound, which helped propel our impact and influence in hip-hop. I mainly produced our first three records – my arrangements with Super Lover Cee's lyrics. Super Lover Cee also dibbled and dabbled in production here and there. He even had the idea for the sample on "Super-Casanova".

In regards to Girls I Got 'Em Locked, the album was recorded at Greenstreet studios with engineer Rod Hui. The reason we recorded there was because 1212 studios and Paul C were booked solid for months in advance by Ultra Magnetic MCs, forcing us to find another place to record the album.

It was during the rise of hip-hop, but I can say honestly that no one ever influenced us. We always were trying new things production-wise and writing songs in our own way. I wrote a lot during that time, but I was more engaged with production and mixing. Supe could produce too but his strength and passion was in lyrics.

Cee: Making the album wasn't that hard as I had a lot of lyrics that hit the cutting floor while writing my first single "Do the James". In addition, some of the lyrics were from songs that I wrote for the three years competing in the rap battles at the roller rink. Musically, we followed the trends. However, lyrically we wanted to be different in an effort to stand out from the rest.

What do you remember about the reception of the debut album when it was released? What are you memories of performing live during this period?

Rud: We were always well received everywhere we performed or when we did in-stores (in-stores were where an artist would go to record shops and sign autographs and meet fans). We were loved in California when you would think our sound was very different than the West Coast. Our production opened eyes and our sound caught the ears of many early hip-hop heads. We always had dance-tempo type of songs, which both East and West Coasts took to easily.

Also we had the pretty boy image, which helped catapult us to a certain status in mainstream hip-hop without actually being mainstream, since we were still considered underground. The tracks on Girls I Got 'Em Locked the album were very energy driven and dance crews would use them for their routines and choreography. We always had our own style in both image and sound, which has stood the test of time.

Cee: Those in the hip-hop community immediately noticed the group, I hear, due to the lyrical style and content, in addition to the clean look of the group. This was the goal and we hit the mark.

Performing the songs brought a lot of girls out as we were known as "The Romeos of Rap". Live performances were like I dreamed them to be while creating the songs: punch-lines repeated by the crowd, screaming women and respect from the guys for the workmanship. At that age, it was like being on top of the world.

Interestingly enough, there were not very many promotional music videos made for the album -- and during a time when MTV was essential in helping break an artist or band. Why was this?

Rud: At that time we were always somewhat of a test group or Litmus paper to see the reaction of an underground artist/group in the major-label world. Since we had moderate success already, without spending money on major publicity, I would assume Elektra wondered, Why should they spend money if it's not broke?

When you first began, hip-hop was all about duos. There was Eric B & Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, GangStarr and too many more to mention. Why do you think hip-hop flourished this way in the late '80s?

Rud: The true essence of hip-hop music is the DJ and the MC. So a lot of early groups had that combo, to later having MC duos spitting back to back. Since early on, when there was only a few groups who could have live music playing, the DJ would keep the beat on time for the MC. Only later did the DJ become part of the act altogether. Now we have digital recordings of everything. All you have to do is press "play", now.

Cee: In my opinion, most lyricists needed a DJ to orchestrate the music during a performance. It was the trend from jamming in the parks of New York. There was always the DJ and the Master of Ceremony (MC). Later this turned into the producer and the rapper(s). Same concept today in my opinion.

What traits, styles and characteristics did each of you bring to Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud?

Rud: I was always about dynamic range and high impact energy when it came to music production and Super Lover brought intricate lyrical delivery, which seamlessly meshed together to create our sound. Paul C helped to craft our recorded sound.

Cee: Collectively, we both had the clean look. I catered lyrics to the ladies and lyrical style/swag to the gentleman. Rud was quite the ladies man with an awesome DJ scratch. In addition, Rud was also able to hit the stage and fill in punches with the lyrics giving him two aspects of the game. Collectively, we balanced each other out. It was the perfect combination for success during that time.

Your next release, the EP Blow Up the Spot, came five years later. Why did it take this long to follow-up the full-length debut?

Rud: We had to wait for the smoke to clear in regards to the unfortunate death of our mentor, Paul C. The industry wasn't too forgiving of us at that time, as a lot of rumors circulated about us. But this industry is very unforgiving, and is a "what have you done for me lately?" type of business.

Cee: I would have to say personal politics, corporate politics and the new act emerging on the hip-hop scene. It was a combination of things. I can remember how quickly new acts started to emerge and all of the Major Players wanted in on them, but you had budget restrictions. I say this because we never had a problem getting in the doors of a label; it was all about who to sign and who to sign with. Of course, this is all hindsight. Everyone wanted to win. However, due to hip-hop being new in the mainstream, corporate decisions still had to be made. It was just business on both ends.

Blow Up the Spot featured a heavier sound, was a little harder, a little more mature and relied a little more on jazz samples. What was approach with the music on this album?

Rud: We were always ahead of our time musically and verbally. We coined terms like "Got it locked", so we were never scared to try new sounds and ideas. We even incorporated another person's style that we were rocking with at the time in MC Kess, who wrote a song and the-title track on the EP. We were always trendsetters and never withdrew from attempting to try new things.

Cee: All I can say is "The Fines". Stu and Amy had their idea of what album they wanted from us. They had a trend of jazz-sounding releases and wanted to maintain that sound I'm guessing. They cut the checks, we made the songs, but to let us do what we do would have had a more successful outcome, in my opinion. [Amy Fine worked on the art direction for the EP "Blow Up the Spot", and was the general art director and graphic designer for Wild Pitch Records. Stu Fine established Wild Pitch Records, which the EP was issued on.]

What happened to Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud? Why had they not released any more albums after 1993?

Rud: I think if you asked that same question to Supe or DNA Records, you might get a different answer. But I would say we were blacklisted, being accused or implemented in a murder only later to be exonerated, without elaborating any further. Plus the times were changing in regards to how the Big Money Machine (major record labels) were controlling the narrative of the music. Gangster Rap was a target, violence and other things were being filtered. So... me and Supe weren't as close as before, dealing with life and having differences in agendas.

Cee: After the death of the legend and hidden third member of the group (The Engineer) Paul C McKasty, there was a lot of controversy over who caused his death. Rumors killed Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud. After some time, it was not in my interest to continue. I was a little naïve to what people were capable of. In hindsight, it put me in a state of depression for a short time. Then, of course, times and what the listeners wanted changed as '90s hip-hop became more violent and so the Romeos of Rap weren't favored as much. Although we still had a fan base, we didn't fit into the current trend at the time.

Musically, where are you today? Are there any plans for a reunion? And what upcoming music can we expect from the both of you?

Rud: As a group, we've just released the 30th anniversary edition of Girls I Got 'Em Locked on all digital formats (Google play, Itunes, Tidal, Spotify etc.). And we are always in talks about working on a new album together. But nothing is in stone yet.

I've never stopped making music personally, which is now in a very conscious and intellectual tone. You can follow my musical growth on SoundCloud.com/casanova-Rud and search @CasanovaRud on any engine and find out about my current endeavors.

Cee: Myself and Rud both lead separate lives and we live in different states at the moment. This isn't stopping us. However, it does hinder the creative process as we knew it. Although I would love to record another album with Casanova Rud, at the moment my family needs me as I care for my 80-year-old mother who suffers from a stroke and dementia, along with a special needs 27-year-old son.

In addition, there's a web design company, radio station, and other ventures I take part in. Balancing isn't easy due to unforeseen occurrences that continue to rise. I believe nothing is impossible and look forward to doing a new project. So stay tuned folks!

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