FUNKY, MAKE MONEY & YA DON’T STOP:
THE STORY OF DUKE BOOTEE AKA ED FLETCHER – SUGAR HILL HOUSE BAND
PERCUSSIONIST, COLLEGE PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, MERCURY RECORDS SOLO RECORDING
ARTIST, FOUNDER OF BEAUTY & THE BEAT RECORDS & WRITER OF
GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS 5s THE MESSAGE. By JayQuan
This one is a long time coming. In addition to being a percussionist on most Sugar hill releases, Duke Bootee is the man who conceived the idea for the Message, created the music & wrote the hook and all of the verses except Melle Mels last verse (a child is born). The Message is the song that changed the game forever, but it is often credited to D.J. Grandmaster Flash, the Furious 5 or just Melle Mel. Duke Bootee also co wrote The Message II (Survival) and New York New York. It is an honor to share the story of Ed Fletcher.
Peace it’s an honor. How did you get into music and what instruments
do you play?
Bootee: Well I took music lessons in school – percussion, the drums
and xylophone. When I got to college I started playing in cover bands. I
went to Philadelphia where Gamble & Huff were hot at the time. I
played in a band with a college mate named Dennis Fortune. We
wound up being signed to Buddah, and worked with Norman Harris &
Bobby Eli who were doing’ all the hot Philadelphia International
groups like the O Jays & Teddy Pendergrass. Well our record was
never released; Buddah signed Gladys Knight, and stopped putting money
into new acts. I went back to Jersey and joined a local band called Hot
Pepper, which was the hottest local band at the time. We did weddings,
after hours joints and stuff. Newark was a big organ town, and I started
playing jazz with people like Charles Earland, Jack Mc Duff and Jimmy Mc
Griff. My first big commercial gig was with Edwin Starr on a song called
Eye To Eye Contact. I started getting gigs based on that, then I
went to Europe with Edwin in like ’79 which was my first time going to
England. I came back and went right to Sugar Hill.
So you got to Sugar Hill right after Rappers Delight.
Yeah I got the gig through Jiggs Chase, who I used to play jazz with
back in the days. He was my mentor. All those Sugar hill Records will
say Jigsaw Productions – that’s Jiggs Chase. He brought me in, and
the first record that I played on was Freedom by Grandmaster
Flash & The Furious 5. I played congas & timbales on that. Then
I played on every Sugar Hill track after that. All the timbales, congas
& vibes are me.
What was the process when you cut at Sugar Hill?
It all depends. Like Flash would go to the Fever and hear what breaks
were moving’ the crowd. He would show it to Sylvia and if she liked it
we would take a part of it. Jiggs would put a little groove
or musical interlude to it. The kids (rappers on the label) would
bring their favorite songs and breaks in. We all came up in cover bands
so we could play exactly like the original, and sometimes make it a
Yeah on Freedom y’all nailed it. It sounds just like Get Up And
Dance by Freedom.
Yeah we prided ourselves on playin’ shit better than the original
record. We would hone in on the part that got the crowds going, and
dissect the whole record.
On your PolyGram records solo release you say in the liner notes that
when The Robinson's found you, you were shinin’ shoes.
Yeah shinin’ shoes on 1st street!!
So your fist charted hit was with Edwin Star ?
Yeah it was a disco type hit. I had to make the jump from gigs and
touring to being a session musician and recording in the studio. You
said that you were interested in Steve Jerome. He taught me how to
engineer, he taught Jiggs also. When you were working with old timers
like (Jack) Mc Duff, and you sat at the board to get your sound they
would say, “don’t touch that”. Like you were gonna blow it up or
somethin’. Steve Jerome would take time to show you the process if you
were interested. Once we got our sounds on the board he refined them. He
knew what mic to use with what vocal. The way they make records now is
like instant records. Back then you had to use a certain mic for a
certain voice, you had to know frequency and range. All of the musicians
there wanted to learn how to record. We would tour with the Sugar Hill
Gang and Sylvia would bring us off the road to cut.
Let me go back. Who did you admire musically growing up?
I liked all kinds of music. My father was a big band fan. Basie, Duke
Ellington and people from the 30s & 40s. I listened to Louie Jordan
and all of it. I liked jazz, and by the time I got to high school my
premiere idol was Miles Davis. That’s who you listened to and wanted
to play with. Charles Lloyd and all the jazz people. Then there was
Hendrix and the Beatles. The first show I ever saw was James Brown. That’s
when I knew that I wanted to be on stage. We used to take the train from
Jersey to the Apollo to see the shows there. Easter Sunday we would go
see the Motown revue. Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops that whole world was
very captivating to me. But I liked musicals too, like Westside Story,
Camelot and Oklahoma. I like country westerns too.
And you are originally from Jersey?
Yes Elizabeth. I lived there until about 14 years ago when I bought a
house in Plainfield. It was a middle class neighborhood growing up, but
all neighborhoods change.
It became more urban with shootings and things later on.
It became more urban with shootings and things later on.
Where did you get the nickname Duke Bootee?
That came from Mark Sadane who did 2 records for Warner Brothers. Since
I was the percussionist I would bring the act out sometime. Mark noticed
the anatomy of a certain type woman that I liked. This bass player
brought this girl back stage and said, “that’s one of those Fletcher
type of women”. Mark said, “yeah he must think that he is the Duke
Of Bootee”. One of these girls that sang with us started singin' “he’s
the Duke Of Bootee”. That became my alter ego, and my emcee name. It
was funny and I stuck with it.
I have heard a lot of stories about how the R&B groups used to
sabotage your set when you played with the Sugar Hill gang.
Yeah, like if you played with Cameo, their soundman would put a piece of
tape on the board so that your volume couldn’t go above 4. They would
turn theirs up to 7, so that when they came out they automatically sound
more live. Or they wouldn’t let our drummer set up on the riser; they
would put him on the floor. We opened for Rick James, George Clinton,
Zapp, Slave everybody.
Le Blanc & Wimbish said that P Funk was the only group that
respected rap from the beginning.
Yeah that’s right. That’s who we wanted to be when we grew up
anyway. We put our leather pants on before we went on stage. Them niggas
got off the bus with their leather pants on in the summer time!!! They
lived it 24-7. You gotta remember that before them people wore those
sorry assed uniforms, and you didn’t know if they were musicians or
bellhops!!! P- Funk came on
with jeans and diapers. When you’re on tour you really don’t bother
to even go see the other acts. After you see them one night how many
times can you see the same act, but P Funk we watched every night!!
Every night the funk was on stage – Dennis Chambers on drums, Gary
Shider, it was just incredible to watch. Everybody respected the funk
– Bernie Worell and cats like that you could learn from.
On the tours who did you play for besides Sugar Hill Gang?
Just Sequence. They usually came on first. They had a few tunes I loved
playing like Funk You Up. That one worked well on stage. The
other groups weren’t really big enough to go on the tours. The Funky 4
went a few times, but they took Break Out or one of their Djs. I really
liked them. Sha Rock was miles ahead of Sequence back then. Her style
was cutting edge New York stuff. Rodney C was exciting too, and he doesn’t
get credit. They were a hell of a group.
Was Rappers Delight your first time hearing rap in that form
Well I was always into Reggae – old stuff like Big Youth. They had the
sound systems and the Djs talked to the music, but the first time I
heard the American style was Rappers Delight.
JQ: As a musician did you respect rap when you first heard it ?
I didn’t respect it at first from an artistry point of view. It wasn’t
until I saw Flash & them. I didn’t understand exactly what it was,
but I knew that whatever it was they worked hard on it, and they did it
well. When they approached a song they didn’t just do a verse, and
then pass it to the next guy to do a verse like the Gang – they split
lines between each other and doubled up on some lines. They had an
artistry about it that you had to take seriously.
Did Sylvia seem to favor The Gang as her favorite group?
Sylvia’s favorite group was whoever was making’ her the most money
at the time!!!! Who ever had the hot record was her favorite. Certain
groups may have been easier to deal with than others. And she would pit
one group against another to get hot.
Do you mean like divide & conquer?
I don’t think it was that, I mean from a motivating point of view. I
mean if you see a group and they all have cars you want to do what they
did to get a car. One thing that the slick rappers would do like Mel
& Scorpio, when we were cutting tracks they would ask us “what
tracks do you think she is hot on”? Cause a track might be cut already
and different groups tried to put their rhymes to it, and she would let
whoever she was hot on have the track. Everybody was going’ to clubs
and coming’ back suggesting stuff. Even Joey and Leland (Sylvia
Robinsons' sons) would bring ideas based on records that were out.
Sometimes the rappers would bring a track in and lose it because someone
else put a better rhyme to it.
Yeah I noticed Furious 5s Step Off and Funky 4s King Heroin
have the same music. Also Busy Bee’s Making Cash Money and
Yeah. In Jamaica that happens all the time. If a track is hot then
everybody is cutting a version of it.
JQ: Did you, Skip Mc Donald, Doug Wimbish and Keith Le Blanc work well together ?
Yes very well. If they didn’t go home and were stayin’ in Jersey
overnight they would stay at my house. My wife has fed a lot of them,
and we still have a warm relationship until this day because of all the
time that we spent together. It’s like being in the Army with someone.
I have worked with hundreds of musicians and they are the warmest and
friendliest that I have ever worked with.
Do you see working with them again in the future?
Anytime they call. Some people you just always make yourself accessible
to. Whenever I go see them I cant leave without them callin’ me up on
stage to do somethin’!!! That respect is still there because they were
excellent musicians and they are just good people.
We spoke earlier about Jiggs Chase. Was he just an arranger, or did he
play instruments as well?
DB: He plays
keyboards, programs drums and was Sylvia’s right hand man. The process
might be that Sylvia would call him up to the kitchen, 'cus
back then she had a big mansion type house. And she had a huge
JQ: This was in
Englewood…. She would call him to the kitchen and she may have 3 or 4
beats or songs. She would send him down to the studio, and he would call
Doug, Skip and Keith, and they would cut together. I would come in and
overdub percussion. That was in the daytime. In the
evening Sylvia would come down and work on vocals with whatever group
that was gonna be on the track.
For the period that the label was active, which was pretty much 1979 –
1985 you cats were busy considering the output from those years.
DB: Well I fed
my family quite well for a long time, and the experience of being in the
studio 6 days a week for 12 hours plus a day….. That’s why so many
people from the label went on to do such big things – like Chris Lord
Alge who is one of the top recording engineers in the business. He
started at Sugar hill. We had 2 studios- up the hill and down the hill.
Steve Jerome taught Chris Lord Alge , and there was another guy named
Eric. He went on to do all of Robert Palmers stuff like Simply
Irresistible and all those. I used to see him in England and he was
doin' big things.
JQ: And you
worked out of 2 studios.
DB: Yeah up the
hill was called Hugo & Luigi’s before the Robinsons purchased it.
And they built one down by the offices that burned down a few years
back. But you might start cutting up the hill, and have to go down the
hill to finish.
JQ: How far were
these places from each other?
DB: About 5 minutes.
Im really glad to get this chance to talk to you because I have heard so
many stories about The Message…
will tell you the real deal!
JQ: Well I was
told that you cats were getting blazed & listening to Brian Enos My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts for the vibe that became The
Message that the world heard. But what is the genesis of The
Musically I was always listening to some crazy shit. But we were
recording one night, and I was always beating on stuff. I had gone out
to get a drink of water, and I started beating on this water bottle.
Everyone was so in tune that you couldn’t fart down there without
everyone playing along. We got a groove going and it was really like a
jungle track – real intense. Sylvia really liked it….but not much
happened with it.
Was it like a Last Poets type track?
Almost, I guess you could say that. …but there was a progression, we
all wanted to be players, then
studio musicians and naturally working
around producers we all wanted to get our production chops off. Well
everybody was always jockeying to get next to Sylvia, cus if you could
get her hot on a track you knew your shit was goin’ out. She would
send you upstairs to Joe to cut some kind of deal and you would get some
money. Being that Jiggs was her right hand, he knew if she was hot on
something or not. If you
look at the credits on The Message- its myself, Mel, Jiggs and
Sylvia. The only people who wrote anything were Mel & myself. But in
the course of how we did business there if you wanted something to go
out, you cut her in. Jiggs got cut in cus he was my man, he
brought me to the label and I made a lotta dollars because of him, so he
should be cut in. He came to the house
and told me that I needed to write something to it. I was sittin' at my
mothers bar in the basement, and I said man its like a jungle sometimes.
Then I said it makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under. He said that’s
on let me make sure im clear on this. This is still to the jungle beat?
Yeah, that’s where I got that idea for that line (its like a jungle).
So I puffed on a spliff…and we are down in the basement and ever so
often a nigga might ride by and you hear a bottle get broken. So I said
“broken glass everywhere”. He told me to keep goin’ and I did.
JQ: So you wrote that whole song, hook and everything excluding Mel’s last verse right there on the spot ?
Yep, right at my mothers bar in the basement! At the time we had just
toured with Zapp and I loved More Bounce. I also loved Genius Of Love by
Tom Tom Club. I knew that I had to make something more commercial. I did
the track, put a bass line to it and some of the basics, and I put the
raps in. When Sylvia heard the vocals with the new music she was sold.
She liked it much more than the jungle track because she heard the dance
potential in the new one. So my vocals were just reference vocals for
the rappers to learn the song. Flash & them were supposed to do it,
but they didn’t like it , im sure you’ve heard that whole story.
Sylvia kept sayin” Fletcher, I kinda like your voice on this, it's kinda
different”. Rahiem had tried it earlier too, but for some reason she
liked my voice on it.
were mad because they had a party record that they wanted to do, I can’t
remember what it was. If memory serves me correctly they got so mad that
they walked out of the studio. They called the car service to pick them
up and they left. Later Mel came to me and said “man I like that shit,
and I have something from another record called Super rappin’
that will fit it perfectly. He said the child is born verse and blew my
mind. I went back and told Sylvia and Jiggs to listen to it, and Sylvia
said yeah put that right on the end. Im not sure if the rest of the guys
had left or not. Scorpio might have still been there, cus he and Mel
were real tight and hung out a lot, but we cut it and the rest was
history. It sounded so good. Mel was smokin’ , as he always was when
he stepped in front of the mic. Of course Mel did that last verse , then
we chopped the rest of ‘em up and that was it. There was no doubt from
the start that it was gonna do somethin’. When we were done mixing, it
came out to 7:11 , and Sylvia was big into numerology and all that shit
so she was excited. It went gold quick too. That was a big summer
So the first time that you heard the finished product, you knew that you
had something different?
Well, I didn’t know anything yet. I didn’t know if it was a hit or
not. But it was the first record that I ever did vocals on that wasn’t
singing. All I knew was that she liked it , I had a lil money in my
pocket, so I was cool. She had the contacts to get airplay immediately ,
and the song was so different. Everybody was used to the boastin’ and
throw your hands in the air, but this record was more ominous and
threatening. It worked with a group like Flash & them because they
had that threatening, street image
, and Sylvia knew that – she had a vision. See people think that they
made that record so big, but what I’ve learned over the course of
history is that things happen because all the parts of the formula are
there. It has to be the right record, with the right group at the right
time. There aren’t any other groups from that time that could have
pulled that record off better than them.
Musically what didn’t you play on it?
DB: The guitar. Skip played the guitar. That was the first record we did
that didn’t use the rhythm section of Doug, Keith & Skip. We used drum
machines, and I came up with the beat and bass line. I was into what I
would call trance music at the time; I didn’t want any change in the
bass line. I did a lot of different things with that track, like I put
all the percussion parts on a backwards tape. That’s why you hear all
those inverted cymbal sounds. I was exploring a lot of different things,
and doing a lot of experimenting.
What kind of drum machine is that?
Where did you learn to program drum machines?
From Keith and Jiggs. They were at the forefront of that.
Was that the first record that you played the drum machine on?
Yeah, indeed. We had drum machines at home that we played around with
like drumatix, but that was the first time on record. After we cut that
record everything went nuts! We had cut a track that Doug , Skip and all
of us came up with. It ended up being called Space Race. We were gonna
use that for the Message II.
Yeah Sugar Hill Gang did Space Race on their Livin' In The Fast
Lane Lp. They used that beat again on a song called Be A
I didn’t know that they had actually done it. But we all came up with
that as a follow up to the Message, but Sylvia had the idea to
use the track that Reggie Griffith did which was Survival and
also Scorpio. But I wasn’t feeling’ that the same way that I
was feeling the Space
Race track, its like our original idea for the Message II Survival
got hijacked. I wrote some stuff, and Mel wrote some stuff, but I held
back some because I wasn’t feeling it the same. Then New York New York
was Reggie again on the music. I liked that lyric, because when the Message
hit I said that if I was gonna get out of here it would have to be now.
Arista Records had given me the money to do some stuff, and New York
New York was going to be for my album. I happened to say the hook
around Sylvia and she liked it , and asked me do it. Our input wasn’t
the same on New York New York and Message II as it was
on the Message. Its funny, the first money that I got from a major label
was Arista. They gave me some developmental money, and I did some stuff
and played it for Clive Davis and he didn’t like it, and I eventually
signed with Mercury. I was like the second rapper to get a six figure
deal. When I left Sugar Hill I needed a lawyer, because my voice was on
these records and I had no paper work. I got turned on to Steve Kopitko
who was an excellent lawyer, and was just branching out on his own.
Steve turned put me on with Mercury/Polygram.
Yeah, liked your first single for Mercury –
Yeah you and about 4 other people. That record got critical acclaim and
that’s about it. When the critics called it sophisticated that was the
kiss of death. I did a lot of production though, and I had some music in the
movie Beat Street. In fact the first music that is played in the movie
is something that I did. I got hooked up through Arthur Baker who was a
good friend of mine. He got his start doing Planet Rock, and by the time
that I left the industry he was producing Bruce Springsteen and Diana
Ross. I met a lot of people hanging’ out with Arthur. Like I met Miles
Davis at the Sun City sessions that Arthur was a part of. If you look at
the footage from Sun City Arthur had me speaking outside down at the
park. I was always a teacher and lecturer so speaking in front of people
was never a big thing and Arthur knew that.
Looking at your solo release – Bust Me Out it looks like you
kept the same family musically as your Sugar hill days.
When you’re playin’ with the baddest cats on the planet you don’t
wanna change the formula.
Who are your favorite 3 bands or solo artists from any genre?
Steely Dan, Miles Davis & Bob Marley. I can't leave out Hendrix and
Prince so you gotta give me 5. A little known history of Prince is that
Tony Sylvester of The Main Ingredient discovered Prince, and made a
record with him before I Wanna Be Your Lover. We ran into
Tony and he was telling us how he had this guy that was gonna be so big
, and he was in Minnesota and played every instrument. The record
finally came out on some ol' funny label after Prince got big. But I
would say that Prince is the most important popular musician of the last
Ok im gonna go back. Since you mentioned Miles Davis, and the last few
musicians that I have interviewed rate him very highly as well – what
is it about Miles that made him so great?
Look on his last lp called Do Bop. He has a song named after me, and he
samples one of my songs in it. But one of my early teachers was James
Mtume who had the group Mtume. Before that he was a jazz musician who I
idolized. He played like I wanted to play. Whenever he made his little
independent records and sold them outside of his gigs, I helped him sell
them. Well he used to play with Miles, and I wanted a Miles gig. But I
have 17 records by Miles Davis and he never replays the same things or
imitates what he did before. He is the definition of prolific. He was
also the coolest nigga on Earth to us .
clubs Miles looked better than everybody else, his bitches looked better
than everybody else’s, his car – everything. He was just the man.
You would cherish every time you got a chance to be around him and hear
him play. He was the man, and you got no higher than him. I got a chance
to meet him when I was with James Mtume, and again with the Sun
City project. But like Keith Leblanc told you, silence is a note as well
and Miles mastered that along with knowing how to play with yourself and
your band as well.
Take me from Mercury as an artist, to starting the legendary Beauty & The Beat
This guy named Maxx Kidd had all the Go Go labels and released records
by Trouble Funk and all those guys; he knew Joe Robinson and he was an
inspiration. But when we went to the new music seminars we saw all these
guys who had their own companies. It was cool being musicians and
producers ,but it was like wow how do these cats have their own
companies? I met Adrian Sherwood from the UK, and he had his own label,
and I said im going to England- if he can do it, then I am too!! The
thing with the UK distributors is that they don’t do returns. If they
order 500 records they pay for 500 records and they own them. In America
they might order 1000 and return 500 that didn’t sell. Over there they
had all these independents that would cut one record and make enough to
do the next one. It was an attitude that we didn’t know about, but the
way its structured over there is more conducive to independent labels.
So I went to the UK and learned from those guys and came back to Jersey.
was this guy that owned Vogel’s record stores named Jeff Sturman, and
I wanted to cut a record. Well all the kids on the street were talking
about this DJ Cheese , and how when he gave a party how good it was, so
I said I have to see this DJ Cheese!! This guy who worked at Vogels took me to see him at his
mothers house in the projects. He had his shit set up in the closet!! He
blew my mind! He was in the 10th grade at the time, and I
was used to workin’ with Flash and all those older guys, but he was
better than all of ‘em!! They had just started doing the Dj
competitions at the New Music Seminar, so I called Tom Silverman and got
Cheese in and he killed ‘em. Then we took him to England and he won
internationally. But let me back up…. I went to a talent show and
these 2 guys came out and the girls went crazy. So I got with them. I
was gonna get with this guy from Elizabeth named Vaughn who ended up
being Cool V that was down with Biz Markie ( Vaughn is Biz's dj &
Ok when you mentioned Vogel’s I thought about him because in Biz’s
video for The Vapors Vaughn is at Vogel’s.
That’s a very true story, cus Vaughn was tryin' to get with us first,
until I saw Cheese. Vaughn was
from Elizabeth , and he was a neighborhood kid, who I was told was good.
But once I saw Cheese I knew that he was the nigga. Cheese was a mother
fucker and there’s just no other way to say it. I hooked him up with
Word Of Mouth (the 2 guys from the previously mentioned talent show) and
they made a few good records.
So Cheese and Word Of Mouth weren’t together already.
No, I put them together. But Cheese was a phenomenon by himself!! He
used to give these parties that were standing room only. Cheese had what
you call a following. I ran a teenage club and I promoted parties and
as long as Cheese was djing we were making money. We would make money
till the fights broke out. But the Vapors was a true story. Biz
used to come to those parties and I made everybody pay – even if you’re
getting on the mic!!! Biz used to knock on by basement door begging for
me to produce him.
I didn’t hear Biz I have to be honest, I was like what is this guy
special ed? I really didn’t hear him (meaning not feeling his music).
When he made the Vapors that’s when I started feeling him. In
fact that’s my partner Jeff in the
video. Vaughn lived four blocks from me and he came from a good family.
Cool Vs father used to buy him equipment and drive him around in his van
to his gigs. He was a good kid, and probably still is. I remember when
they started making money he wasn’t spending it on stupid shit. I was
glad to see his success with Biz. But Biz was one talent that I missed
With Cheese and King Kut he was using parts of Jam Master Jay by Run DMC.
Then Profile picked King Kut up for distribution. Was that just
Here’s what happened. Cory Robbins from Profile called me and said
that he was going to sue us. I was like: fuck it how long is the suit
gonna last? Because unless they get an injuction we were selling records
hand over fist. So Cory invited me to his office and said look how about
if I buy the record from you? He made me a pretty good offer and that
Cheese's involvement on the Sun City project was through you and Arthur
Yeah. In fact I think that he was Djing at the Roxy the night that he
came to the studio and did that song (Let Me See Your I.d.)
Now Coast to Coast came out on Profile. Had Cory bought the group at
Yeah they were signed to him then. That record sold moderately well, but
of all the rap records that I cut that was one of my favorites.
You produced all that Beauty & The Beat stuff?
Yeah all of it. If you heard like a bass or something that was Doug
Wimbish, but all those records were stripped down. They just had what I
call the essentials. I wanted them to sound like the kids did ‘em at
What kind of drum machine were you using, because those records had some
big beats. My little crew was using the Boss Dr Rhythm and those toy
machines, and we wondered how to get the big beats like you were putting
DB:(laughs) I was using the DMX, but I was also experimenting with a lot of reverb and listening to a lot of Jamaican records. This kid named Scientist was mixing a lot of Jamaican records, and there is a record that I always talk about that changed the way we heard digital delay and that was D Train. They did Keep On and You’re The One For Me. They were using digital delay on voices , percussion and everything in a way that fucked us up. They were using it in a way that it hadn’t been used before.
At a certain point American engineers would set the levels on the
and just leave it. Jamaican dub engineers would use the board like
another instrument. They would take a guitar part and pan it right and
left. Americans would set the levels and run it. If you go back and
listen to all those Beauty & The Beat records, in addition to a
rhyme or vocal hook they had an audio hook as well. Like King Kut had
the kingly theme from England. Or Coast To Coast had the Marines theme.
All these melodies kids knew and I was working it on a subliminal level.
You had the Latin Rascals on the edits right?
Yeah I was just about to talk about them. I got with them through Arthur
Baker. These 2 young Puerto Rican cats stayed in the studio just cutting
tape for these edits. They kind of looked up to me & Arthur in a way
because we made music that they had grown up on. But they got real big
after awhile and they were doin' work for everybody.
You mentioned the stripped down method earlier. Do you think that Sugar
Hill would have lasted longer if they had taken some of those
instruments out around ’83 when Run DMC came out stripped down?
Sylvia was from a different era. She heard music and songs. She
transitioned it from being just a breakdown, which most of those records
were based on a breakdown, to something that people could accept. If Run
and them had come earlier with that it probably wouldn’t have worked.
A lot of the Sugar hill stuff got people ready to hear Run DMC and that
era. I met Run when he was Joey – Kurtis Blows Dj and Russell’s
Do you think that if Sylvia had stripped it down earlier the label would
have survived longer, or was there too much drama and what not by that
I don’t think that would have saved the label. By that time their name
had become synonymous with a certain way of doing business. And Russell
Simmons proved to be a genius who was doing business on the up & up and of
course everyone wants to go where the business is right. Russell used to
promote parties way back. See we thought that you had to have Jewish or
White representation. Russell was doing parties with Kurtis Blow, but
nobody knew that he would become the Russell that he is today.
had a vision that wasn’t just chitlin’ circuit ,and he knew how to
sell that shit to White people. It didn’t hurt that he was down with
Rick Rubin either. Andre Harrell is another genius. I remember when I
produced a few cuts on him as an artist (Dr Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde) he
was just about to get his label deal. Black Rob & Heavy D and all
them would come by the studio. See he was into these kids from good
families and stuff – Al B. Sure and all them. Man I didn’t give a
fuck!!! I would get the record now,and worry about whether you are in
jail later. (JayQuan is laughing) But he was right and I was wrong. You
have to get the kids with street skills, but that have a more cultured
background. See many of these kids were gonna be jailbirds anyway! They
come from jailbird families. For many of them rap is just an interlude
between them and jail, they go back to what their roots are. But he was
right. One thing time and history does is tell you who is right or
I say that about Malcolm X all the time. I have a lot of debate footage
where Malcolm would be wearin’ out these NAACP cats. Then years later
when Malcolm is dead and these NAACP dudes are on their death beds, they
start saying all the mistakes they made, and how Malcolm was right on so
many things. That shit got me heated!!
I saw Malcolm X live when I was in the 7th grade. He was
debating one of my father’s best friends, who was the regional
president of the NAACP. His name was John Harvard. He was the most
intelligent dude I had ever seen in my life, and Malcolm chewed him up!!
And there was no denying it. Its like when you hear truth for the first
time. Like I don’t wanna put Melle Mel on the same level as Malcolm X,
but the first time that I heard Mel I was like damn. It was that same
Yeah Mel was a mother fucker man. I tell him all the time that he is a
It’s the same thing when I first heard D’Angelo. I knew that this
guy had something in him. There are just certain artists like that. When
you hear the truth you know it, and it attracts people because there is
so much bullshit out there. When people heard My Adidas they
could relate to it more than King Of Rock and Walk This Way.
Or when I heard Rakim. That dude changed the whole rhyme scheme.
Yeah he took what Moe Dee and Melle Mel were doin’ to another level.
Yeah Moe Dee was an intelligent brother. I think that his mom was a
teacher or something. The Treacherous 3 is a group that I thought big
things would happen to, because they were just nice kids. They had the
same thing as L.L.- they were just likable. I also thought that Busy Bee
would get bigger. He was a funny nigga! It never translated to records
but he could make you laugh.
And he still is funny!!!….Back to the Beauty And The Beat catalog. The
Z-3 Mcs were from Baltimore. That was a rarity for a non New York group
at that time to get love from up top. How did you link up with them?
One of my best friends was a guy named Thornton Daniels from Baltimore.
Cheese & me gave a talent show down at a roller skating rink in
Baltimore and these guys won. They were young, like 9th &
10th grade. They were very interesting and the beat box was
That’s another record that I bought based on the record cover. When I
saw beat box convention on the cover, and it was the same label as King
Kut, I knew it couldn’t be bad. And it didn’t disappoint. Again it
had that big beat to it.
Well I knew how to make a record based on all those that I did at Sugar Hill.
We went to Frankford Wayne & Herbie Powers would master them. One
thing I learned early on was being involved in every part of the
process, from pre-production to cutting the tracks, mixing and taking it
to the mastering lab. I don’t know if Keith & Doug told you, but
we used to master shit beyond the limits. Like the mastering engineer
would say “im telling you as a professional I don’t wanna do this
‘cus its too live (loud).
remember mastering engineers saying don’t ask for any money back when
this record doesn’t play, cus you’re trying to cut it too deeply.
The thing was to get the record louder than what the mastering engineer
wanted, but not to the point of distortion. You gotta remember your
record is gonna be in the clubs and on the radio. You don’t want the
record before and after yours to sound louder than yours. I used to get
my mix right, then play it on one mono speaker in the studio to see what
sounds cuts through. The bass was boomin’ but I always wanted some
percussion effects in the high frequency range.
A lot of people have used the intro to the Z-3 Mcs in their records. I
know Erick Sermon sampled it, and a lotta UK guys cut it up. Do they get
Hell no they don’t clear it.
Those records are valuable. I have seen sealed copies of King Kut go for
close to 100 dollars.
(laughs) King Kut used to get so many returns. I used to put them on the
street and the kids threw them like Frisbees. I used to get pissed off
at the returns so I set them out with the garbage. Kids had a ball with
One mans trash is another mans treasure. Cats tell me how they gave away
their certified gold albums…
Man I got so much shit in the basement. You have to understand when you’re
sittin' around broke looking at a gold record it means nothin’. You
can’t eat it. It actually starts to piss you off.
Where were the Point Blank Mcs from?
They were from Elizabeth NJ. They used to hang around Word Of Mouth; in
fact they lived in the same projects. They had a little following. Some
of them went on to do good things. One of them became a minister, and
was doin’ outreach work in Africa. They were from the projects but
they had other things goin’ on. In fact my mother was a 3rd
grade teacher and she taught one of them.
What did Z-3 end up doing?
They had illustrious careers in crime. They came up the rough side of
the mountain. I know that at least one of them is dead.
Ok how about the solo joint that you did called Broadway, which was on
Beauty & The Beat?
One of my favorites joints of all times was Broadway by Dyke & The
Blazers, and I always wanted to cut something on that. I spent a lot of
time in New York, and I envisioned making a song about taking Broadway
from the bottom of Manhattan all the way up to Harlem.
Alright going back a bit, when you left Sugar hill going to Mercury did
Sylvia give you her blessings?
Well giving me her blessings would be goin too far, but I never signed
anything exclusive with them. One of my father’s friends had been one
of Joe Robinson’s lawyers, and he told me that I might not get
everything that I thought I was. So its not like I didn’t know who I
was dealing with, I knew. Going in I planned on later parlaying that
situation into somethin’ else like I did.
And you are still cool with the Robinsons today right?
Yes, I talk to Sylvia, and you’re always cool with them until you go
to court. When you go to court the cool is gone.
So are you part of the class action suit against them?
No, but I may do something on my own later.
JQ: I will ask you like I did Mel. Is it hard being around them being that you feel you are owed large amounts of monies, but still be cool with them ?
That’s part of the genius with of Joe & Sylvia. Now this is not
true with Joey Jr. But Joe & Sylvia are like mother & father
figures to a certain degree. You might not like what you mother &
father are doin, but they are still your mother and father if that makes
sense. That’s the hold that they had over all of us for a long time.
Plus Sylvia just has ways – the woman is phenomenal! Did you know that
you weren’t getting the right money? ..yes…and you knew that it was
sellin’ but you dealt with it the best way you could. Now the kids
like Flash & them they honestly didn’t know what they were getting
into, but like I said I knew.
When The Message appears in movies like Happy Feet, and the numerous
places that it appears in pop culture do you get a royalty?
I probably wont get anything from Joe & Sylvia, but I will get BMI
(publishing company) money for it. You would have to track Joey Jr and
Sylvia down to get your real money, and that’s why everybody ends up
in court. I don’t know if Mel or anybody told you, but if you’re low
on money you can go up there and get you maybe 4 or 5 thousand dollars.
Over the course of 4 or so years it might add up to 30,000 thousand or
whatever. Now that ain’t what you’re supposed to get, but if you’re
tight for cash you can go up and get a few thousand. There have been
times that I went to her and said look I need some money for whatever,
and she would find a way to get me 5 thousand or whatever I needed. Its
not what im owed, but its some money. That’s why you can put up with a
lot of things. If you go to court you will eventually get somethin’
– but what are you gonna do before that shit?…in the meantime?
Do you feel that Sylvia did a divide & conquer on the Furious 5?
You mean purposely
I don’t put anything pass them. It could have been done that way. I
remember Joe Robinson said to me “this record is gonna be too big. Its
gonna cause a problem”. See when a record gets that big everybody
wants to know where the money is. Because somebody is makin’ some. You
look at your own bank account and you know it ain't you. But there were
times that I thought that she was playin’ up to Flash. Other times I
thought she played to Mel & Scorpio. Sylvia was like a personal
politician. She could play one part against the other to maintain
control. She looks at the most essential element to make the group work.
If she feels its Mel, then that’s who she pulls in.
It seems like the successful people whether its Puffy, Russell, Sylvia,
or Donald Trump have that stigma of being shrewd. It’s almost like a
good guys finish last thing.
Joe Robinson once said ”you may as well do whatever you’re gonna do,
because the artist is gonna swear that you robbed them either way”.
Every artist at some point is gonna say that the producer is stealing
their money. I have been in the situation. I have been sitting at a
table and heard someone say so and so cut a record with Duke Bootee and
he never paid them. Im like I never saw this person in my life!!! Its
just part of the business. Like you said any one who is successful is
gonna have enemies.
Back to the records. I have a bizarre one here by Wooly Reasonable &
The Yo Culture.
Yeah that singer was this kid from Hartford, he was a jazz singer and I
can’t remember his name. But Doug & them are playing on it. I cut
that here and sold it to Polygram for distribution in England.
The name of your current book is the Yo Culture. What exactly is the Yo
In urban areas the word yo is used in different ways, and then people
started callin’ each other yo. And the Yo Culture is about these urban
people, how they talk, how they live and think. The book is about it
even more directly. It’s about a family of 7 kids by one mother, 4
different fathers and their struggles over a year. Its street literature
– the mother is a crack head. You know how you ride down the street
and you see a crack head walking around in a circle? Most of those women
have families, and its like if you followed them home to see their
family life. I taught in juvenile corrections and I saw some crazy
stuff, and how the value system of kids is so different. People cursing
out their parents – it’s a whole different culture. Adults my age
say they have no values. I say they are just different values.
Who is this chick Tululah Moon?
She was from Hartford as well. She was a big legged, big titty girl who
could sing her fat ass off!!
Ok im glad that you said that. Because I almost asked “who is this
chick with these big titties that you signed”? But I said that could
be your sister or relative so I fell back (laughs).
Duane Mitchell who was Sugar hill Gangs keyboard player, and did stuff
for the O Jays and Levert was from Hartford, and he hooked me up with
her. He said she is just your type
- she has big legs and titties and can sing her ass off!!! And he
was right on all of that!.
Im gonna name some joints, and I want you to tell me somethin’
interesting about that track.
I usually didn’t stay to see or hear the vocals put over the tracks,
especially after seeing the Gang do theirs. Not that they were boring,
but it was a boring process. But seeing the Furious 5 blew my mind. The
way they divided phrases, doubled up and did them in unison. And no one
could do a party track like them. That’s a forgotten art – the party
track. Rahiem had characters he would use. Mel was growling, Mr. Ness
had some slick shit and Creole with his yes yes y'all.
Wonder: I remember Jiggs put this little piano in the track. I remember
liking it a lot. That was a big record for them and it sold a lot more
than many people know. I used to like to do that one live. Master Gee
use to drive the girls crazy. He was an early sex symbol in rap, and I
think that Mel and them were kinda jealous of it. He was cut a little
bit back then, and this was before those guys got into fitness and
to the Beat:
I wasn’t involved in that one, but I remember tellin’ Flash when I
saw him playin’ the beat box that he better hope that I didn’t get
one, cus I would wear his ass out. When I got mine we went on the road
and we had a contest one night before a show at a sound check. If memory
serves me correctly I wore him out. Even some of the Furious 5 admitted
it. But Flash actually exposed me to the beat box.
(Make Your Body Move)
– Joey might have tried to do the vocoder on that. He didn’t play on
anything, but he was involved in the song selection. Craig Derry,
Sabrina Gillison & Cindy Mizelle sang on those West Street Mob
Records. They were all talented people.
Yeah that was the cover of the Tom Tom Club song. I remember Willie
Starjoe was a big baseball player from my generation – Flash &
them didn’t know who he was. He brought his daughters to one of the
concerts and came backstage afterwards. We thought he was gonna love the
shit. But back then Furious had a raunchy act. I mean they used to grab
their nuts and everything. That was a big deal back then. But he said
that was the nastiest thing he ever saw, and he was mad he brought he
show you how quick Mel was he said “do you know what the name of our
song is, what kind of father are you?. If you kept up with what your
daughters were doin' you would know its called Its Nasty. And we
are nasty”!! Furious were great live. I remember that they were the
only rap act back then to use the whole stage. Rappers would get on and
stand in one spot!!! I
think that they learned from watching Funkadelic and Cameo and all the
guys we opened up for. But they gave a real show.
Mean Machine. I think they were Puerto Rican some of them. They did the
Grace Jones track. Last time I saw the dj for that group was at Michael
Jackson’s Victory tour after party.
What are you doing today?
Promoting my book The Yo
and writing my new book Who Shot Duke
Bootee, which is a post modern Hip Hop who done it. It’s a ghetto
thriller about drugs, organ (body organs) theft and shootings. Its
crazy. These books are what will be soon called Hip Hop literature. I
always wanted to write ,and I finally have time. Im about to do some
music again too. I am falling back in love with music again. At one
point the music business wasn’t pushing my buttons anymore.
Since you are 95% responsible for the record that sparked social lyrics
in rap music, let me ask if you agree with Chuck Ds old analogy that rap
is the Black communities CNN?
For one segment yes. It represents the hopes and desires of one segment
of the Black community. Rap has become regional. There is rap from
different areas of the country. Rap for Whites, rap for Blacks, rap for
middle class Blacks. Everything isn’t gold teeth and rims. The larger
thing that makes possible is entrepreneurship. Like I know now that my book
will sell. I didn’t have to wait for a White person. There is no
critic or company that can convince me that there is no market for my
stuff. Just like in the beginning with rap, people made their tapes and
cab drivers rode around listening to them. Me & my best friend
Humberto Fernandez whom I’ve known since I was 10 years old, put our
own money together, and we will sell it ourselves. My definition of Hip
Hop is get funky make money
and you don’t stop.
In fact you can call the interview that. If you have something that is
live & vibrant put it out there and make some money from it. Then
keep doing it.
**SPECIAL THANKS TO KEITH LE BLANC & HUMBERTO FERNANDEZ
2007 JayQuan Dot Com No part may be copied or reproduced without authors