Kool Keith – Man of a Thousand Faces

Kool Keith is undeniably the most innovative and eccentric figure to ever pick up a microphone and rap; the George Clinton of Hip-Hop. 

Born in The Bronx, the birthplace of Hip-Hop, revered as the inventor of abstract rap and a Player from the day his legendary crew, Ultramagnetic MC’s, dropped their second single, Ego Trippin’, in 1986. Dominating the hearts and minds of true blue Hip-Hop artists, fans and critics alike on the crew’s highly influential Critical Beatdown in 1988 until their third and final offering, The Four Horsemen, in 1993.

Relocating to Hollywood, Ca, Keith flipped the script and returned as the heralded Dr. Octagon, a time traveling ET gynecologist and surgeon in 1995, appealing to the designer drug crowd and touring the world in 1996, eventually signing with Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks label. Referring to the project he recorded in a day as scrambled eggs with cheese and pepperoni. 

In 1997, Kool Keith the Player on a strict diet of sex, porn and the seedy side of Hollywood life, dropped the infamous Sex Style album on his very own Funky Ass Records. The label name an ode to the illusion of strippers. The cover featuring a relaxed Keith in underwear, boots and muscle shirt, posing beside XXX star Spantaneeus Xtasty. 

“Marilyn Manson, people think he’s dope. I want to be up there.  I’m up there. I’m next to Stan Beck. I’m bigger than Guns N Roses now. Fuck Nirvana. We just big. We are Rock; I’m Rock.”

Holding court on the phone for an hour back in 1997, Kool Keith discusses his storied career, Hollywood life, exposes rapper illusions, disparages sample happy Producers, and what he terms the Tracy Chapman effect of artists selling out their culture and souls to achieve success.

“I’m doing something different. I lived in New York all my life. New York is narrow minded sometimes. The Rego situation there and the mixtapes, its getting stagnant now. Those muthaphukkas is thinking an SP12 and a sampler is their life. I spoke to certain artists, and they know who they are, about drum machines and different types of things and they couldn’t understand my conversation when I started mentioning Moogs and Prophets and DX7s and D50s and different types of keyboards and equipment.

They couldn’t fucking digest it because those slow muthaphukkas didn’t understand. It’s not about an SP12 and a sampler. That’s a Charlie Brown and Linus setup. In Charlie Brown, Linus had that little fucking piano, and a lot of these narrow minded Producers should wake up a realize that they got to get up off that Linus type bullshit. Sitting down with that one fucking piano.

There’s a lot of other instruments out to use. It’s a bunch of Premier wannabe’s. I respect Premier, but it’s a bunch of Premier wannabe’s. They know who the fuck they are. They need to stop it and go out, read keyboard magazines and books, and realize and open their fucking minds to know there’s other music out here and respect other music.” 

Highly upset the evolution of his beloved Hip-Hop from streets, lights and culture experienced a cross pollination with farm and crop, “to calm America down”,  Keith rails against fantasy comical groups jumping around in colourful videos shouting out Mafia slogans. 

Citing consumer sellout plans, marketing schemes, sampling Producer thieves, and rappers who lease their own careers to illuminate a champagne lifestyle as Hip-Hop killers.  Keith illustrates how “fronting is real big in America”.

“When Rakim, when everybody was rhyming back in the days, we had our stuff made. We was wearing the Gucci stuff and everything was fly back then. All those groups had fly gear on but they didn’t rap about it. Now, its like, more rappers just rapping about what they wear and what they got and what they own.  It’s no more real skills on the mic. Its a lot of materialistic bragging. That’s like 75% of rap right now, so we have a problem.”

GangStarr – You Know the Steez

Gang Starr is one of the top crews to ever come out of the East Coast. Revered for their smooth jazz styled Hip-Hop, then that real Boom Bap. The duo of Guru and DJ Premier released four well received influential albums, No More Mr. Guy in 1989, Step In The Arena in 1991, Daily Operation in 1992, and Hard To Earn in 1994. Each album furthering their pioneering sounds and cementing Gang Starr as bonafide pioneers behind the classic NYC Hip-Hop movement and its trademark rough and rugged sounds. 

Following an extended break of three years, to work on other projects, the duo reformed and recorded the highly anticipated Moment of Truth, which was released in the Spring of 1998.. The album quickly sold 500 000 copies in the U.S. and is certified Gold. “You Know My Steez”, “Royalty” featuring K-Ci & JoJo, and the classic high energy cut “The Militia”, featuring Gang Starr Foundation members Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx led the charge.

During the extended break, DJ Premier produced and remixed a steady flow of straight classic tracks for Nas, Biggie, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, Blahzay Blahzay, Group Home, KRS-One, D’Angelo, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, and others.

Staying hungry, fresh and new, during this period he clearly defined his sound and rightful laid claim to being the top Hip-Hop producer in the world.

This interview took place onsite the legendary D&D Studios located in the heart of Manhattan, NY, in late 1997. Inside the very production room chock full of the studio gear he crafts the magic, and DJ Premier block booked until he he eventually purchased the entire studio in 2003 renaming it HeadQCourtterz. The slot is split with a Japanese journalist. The tape is unedited and the interview plays exactly as recorded in 1998.

DJ Premier defines who he makes the music for, its reach, his relationship with Guru, the thought process behind recording an album with Guru and banging out his patented boom bap for others. He breaks down the equipment inside the room, the influence of technology on his sound, discusses beat integrity, Jazzmatazz, the state of Gang Starr Foundation, the significance of money, and the business behind working with artists hungry for his beat magic.     

“Its love all the time. But if its an artist that I know made some sales and if they got they cheddah, even if they ain’t really seen much. I know the label made their dough and they went at least platinum, even if they were underground artists, I’m gonna charge them because they can afford to pay me what I deserve for my talent.

If they’re friends of mine, like M.O.P. I’m always gonna bless them with the way we work out our business. I’m negotiable. I won’t just charge expensive to everybody. Now I’m at a point where I can but I won’t with certain cats. Even Jay-Z. I give him a break because I knew him on a different level, so I’ll look out for him. A lot of people like are like’Damn, why you looking out for Jay-Z?’ Hey, I can do that.

Same thing with Biggie. Me and Biggie was cool as friends when we met him around his way, when we moved over in Fort Greene (Brooklyn). First time around I didn’t charge him nothing. It was peanuts for “Unbelievable” and he went double, triple platinum and all that, and I said, it’s time to put a price on that. He was cool, no problem. They didn’t argue it or nothing. And I wasn’t greedy. I don’t stick you up and be like I want a 100 thousand dollars and stuff like that.

We’re fair because we know fair business is what’s going to keep me hired, keep me in the game. And this is part of the politics of how to place yourself without being a sell out, and that’s how I do it. I like the way my business is run and I’m glad I’m learning more things about how to keep longevity existing in my life and in my career.”

Guru offered up the successful Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1, in late Spring 1993, prior to the release of Hard To Earn. Stepping outside the Gang Starr arena while adding to his legacy by recording with the artists they sampled in the studio. A jazz rap mix with an all-star band, including contributions by luminaries Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers. The album met with critical acclaim and the band toured the world.

Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality was released in Summer 1995 with special guest performances by luminaries Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Ramsey Lewis, Kool Keith, Lady Patra, Jamiroquai, Branford Marsalis, Courtney Pine, Ronny Jordan and Paul Ferguson. It outsold volume one and an extended tour ensued.

The unique style and beats of DJ Premier manifested into a powerful  all terrain vehicle when coupled with the unique style, vocals and lyrics of the late great, Guru. A quintessential reality rapper, Guru approached and delivered his lyrical flow as one-on-one dialogue with the youth. 

This late 1997 one-on-one interview occurred in the D&D Studios lounge.

In it for the love and art, Guru speaks on the healthy competition between the old school and new school. While detailing the process of creating a Gang Starr album, he relays what keeps the duo working together and relevant.

“Respect for each others as individuals, as best friends, and mainly as artists for what we do in this career of Hip-Hop, of Rap. Its what we represent and what we stand for. Our philosophies are a lot similar and we have different styles. I’m more outgoing and vocal and he’s more laid back but we balance each other out. We used to be roommates, so we know each other well. It’s love there and we got each others back.”

He delves deep into the music of the day when discussing the state of Hip-Hop in 1997, the growth of his beloved industry and where Gang Starr fits into the scheme, and the significance of Moment of Truth.

But what about the love. How did Guru maintain his love for the art of Hip-Hop?

“That’s a good question. I maintain my love. It starts from a family and it spreads to individuals who have always supported me. To cats that be on the street that tell me, ‘Yo, keep doing your thing.’ ‘Yo, when you coming out?’ ‘Yo, I got all your joints.’ ‘You made my day ‘cause if it wasn’t for you there would be no me.’

The people that support and represent are the reason why I’m doing this. They put me on. Once I know that I stay humble and spread my love.”