Words By Malakiy 17
On Saturday, Dec. 16, The Schomburg‘s Hip Hop History Project kicked off its inaugural event of their series “Going Way Back”, with an exclusive interview of Grammy-winning MC, Big Daddy Kane, sponsored by the Schomburg Center’s Junior Scholars Program. Throughout the seminar the ghetto griot navigated the predominantly youthful audience down memory lane as he reminisced his life’s artistic experiences while coming of age in Brooklyn’s heartless Bedford Stuyvesant during the 1970s and ‘80s, as well as how he came to be recognized as one of the top five greatest MCs to ever grip a microphone.
Many Hip-Hop historians regard the highly influential lyricist as being the square root of many of the recognizable artists which flooded the saturated airwaves during the 1990s once commercial mainstream radio stations switched formats to accommodate rap music being played 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. Undeniably, his very intoxicating cadence, flow, story-telling abilities and wittiness; can be detected all up in Biggie Smalls, Big Pun‘s, the Gza’s, Fabulous’ and Jay-Z’s music, Shomburg’s Education Coordinator, Mrs. Kadiatou A. Tubman, introduced moderator, Havelock Nelson and Kane as the packed audience applauded.
Nelson started by asking him what it was like growing up in Do or Die Bed-Stuy? Kane explained being raised with his father, mother and younger brother on Lewis Avenue and attending Sarah J. Hale H.S., where he wrote plays about urban life, and rhymes imploring students to stay in school and off drugs. Meanwhile, he maintained a 98 average, excelling in math & science, and even though the temptations of street life existed everywhere in his environment, he escaped in his art.
“I had a group ‘The Debonair Three’ with A.B. and Understanding. The first rhymes I had ever written were battle rhymes, I’m an MC first-nature,” he proclaimed, also mentioning how he combated rappers at his, as well as from a few other local, high schools. “A lot of my swagger and style came from my father. I took my name from Caine in the Kung Fu TV show,”, referring to the popular ‘70s series. “But I spelt it different.”
He recalled how boxing legend Muhammad Ali was the primary reason he gained interest in rhyming as a youth, and that listening to now classic, but then hard to find, audio cassette tapes of The Cold Crush Brothers, The Furious Five and several others, also played a part. Adding how legendary True Skool wordsmiths Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz and Kool Mo Dee were major influences on sharpening his lyrical craft in becoming an elite MC, while James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Barry White had a role in creating his art and style. Plus, that ‘Divine Sounds’, who lived on the same street, and several other popular Brooklyn Hip-Hop artists from the mid-80s were also motivating factors, namely – Cutmaster D.C. and Whodini.
While still in high school, his friend Wayne introduced him to an aspiring beatbox master from Long Island at Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall. They battled, and, “Afterwards Biz was like,‘You’re dope, you should get down with me, I do a lot of shows. It don’t be major, but it’s good exposure. I guarantee you one day you’re going to make a record, just stick with me’.”
Live footage of the two performing ‘Just Rhymin’ Wit Biz’, at a recent B.B. Kings show was played, as the audience recited their rhymes in unison.
He then went into how Bizmarkie introduced him to DJ Marley Marl, which led to his joining the legendary Juice Crew, formed by Hip-Hop’s first commercial radio personality, Mr. Magic a.k.a. Sir Juice, where he immediately bonded with Kool G Rap, prior to either securing a recording contract. “I’ll take you there” was his very first recording, followed by ‘Get Up and Get Into It’. The video to one of his most popular recordings, Ain’t No Half Steppin’ – was played as the audience synched along.
The urban poet also mentioned the artistic rivalry that became known as ‘The Bridge Wars’ which helped popularize Hip-Hop music during a time when it was only heard on commercial radio Friday/Saturday nights. The creative competitiveness raised the stakes in artistry, causing this time period to later be recognized as Hip-Hop’s “Golden Era”.
“People always wanted to see me and Rakim battle,” he noted. “He’s a great lyricist, but KRS is a certified battle rapper, so that always was my dream battle, but it never happened. KRS understands the art-form, he knows how to pick you apart. I wrote Roxanne Shante’s ‘Have A Nice Day’ [BDP dis], and told KRS. He joked, ‘You said something about my nose?’ After he heard it, we laughed, because we was cool like that.”
He also mentioned how promoter Van Silk “offered $50,000-each, for a battle with Rakim, but it never came off”.
During the Q&A with the audience which followed, he talked about some of the great strides African-Americans have made, but warned not to relax.
“There are so many people that fought for our rights, fought to make life better for Black people, but just because you have a few [freedoms] I don’t think you should just sit there, relax and be like, ‘Hey, everything’s perfect now’,” he suggested. “Because everything that people have fought for, just that quick, you could lose it. The next generation should continue fighting for more.”
When a youth asked, “How do you deal with haters?”
The Smooth Operator replied: “Honestly, I look at my bank account, make sure everything is still there, hey!” eliciting laughter from the audience. Then added, “When someone else that you don’t know, or has no affiliation with you, takes time out of their life to find something wrong with you, to talk about you… you’re clearly doing something important that’s bothering them, stay on your path.”
Another youth asked how he feels about the profound impact he’s had on a generation of artists which followed his, he responded: “Makes me feel good because obviously I did something right.” Naming Logic, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as current artists he respects. He added how Hip-Hop is missing various aspects of its culture, mainly DJ-ing and dancing, naming his on-stage entourage, Scoob & Scrap.
When K.O.S. 5 Allah asked how did becoming a Five Percenter influenced him, King Asiatic recalled acquiring the teachings as a 7th grader in the Heart of Medina during the early 1980s, from two local Gods he ran with named Divine Allah and Understanding Allah, before adding that “through the music, what I did was always try to include mathematics or build on certain songs, but in a way where there’s entertainment to lure you in, but you still get to leave with a message, because a lot of people don’t like being preached to, so sometime you have to trick people into accepting knowledge.”
He added how The Five Percenters’ founder – Allah, The Father “was an intelligent brother that saw something, around the time of Malcolm X, and created a powerful movement. He taught a lot of Black youths in the ghetto, by giving them knowledge of self, and inspired many. He’s an unsung hero that I would love to see get a lot more shine!”
Then he called Hip-Hop’s founding Father to the stage, who was preparing to ask a question from the mic set up on the auditorium’s floor. “You, come up on-stage,” Kane commanded, where he embraced and praised Kool DJ Herc as he stepped forth, and then ordered the audience to stand.
“You don’t understand what’s happenin’ right now. Everything that we do, what I’ve done, what we see right now in Hip-Hop, is because of this man right here! What he created, it all came about because of this brother right here. None of this would exist in the form that we’ve seen it, if it wasn’t for his dream, concept and vision. Thank you Herc!”
Herc mentioned several friends who recently transitioned and paid homage to Kane for his contribution to the culture he created, before closing out.
-Ice Pick Slim 17