While battle rap has achieved one of its most successful seasons ever, it is interesting to see that some of Hip-Hop’s greats got their start battling folk from crew to crew, neighborhood to neighborhood and borough to borough. Rakim has shared that he was slaying people. Roxanne Shante even revealed she used to get money for battling and was banned from coming into certain competitions. And now, Big Daddy Kane reveals that he not only was a fierce competitor but while on his mission to chop down another rival, he met JAY-Z – changing the 4:44 rapper’s life and taking him under his wing.
Check out this exclusive interview with Mr. R.A.W. after his performance at Bedstuy Alive and Restoration Rocks!
Congratulations for your career. It was a free concert but you gave a full show.
The Source: Is there a reason why you don’t hold back on your performances?
Big Daddy Kane: I just love to perform. Definitely, I want to do it big for my hometown, every time. That is mandatory. But I always give full energy, because I love to perform.
How important is Brooklyn in the development of your rhyme style?
Brooklyn played a very important part in developing my rhyme style. Growing up listening to Grandmaster Cas, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee, they were probably the top 3 back then in the early 80s. It is like I am rhyming about what I know. From when I hanging in the barbershop and getting your hair cut, or hanging around the pool hall trying to make some extra money from one of the older cats that send you to the store for a beer or a loosey. The stuff that you are hearing conversation wise and putting that in rhymes. You hear them say slick stuff or if they out there shooting dice or pitching pennies… and you hear the type of conversation that they have…So yes, Brooklyn played an important part in my rap style.
Nobody was rapping like you when you came out. Did the Juice Crew help you develop your sound and craft or did you bring that to the Juice Crew and influence them?
When I got down with the Juice Crew, I was able to bring it out. Prior to that, I was performing with Biz. Biz was the real member of the Juice Crew. I was just someone that traveled with him and did cameo appearances. Biz had me saying funny rhymes about girls. But that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but Biz had this comedic show, so that’s what worked for him. But once I broke off and started doing my own thing, I was able to do what I’m used to doing. I grew up battle rapping. So once I was able to do that I was able to spread my wings and do what I like doing.
Did you ever battle any emcees that we know?
There were cats that we battle before they got on. Many of them did not excel in their careers. But rappers like Mike Ski from the Dismasters (they had that song “Small Town Huslter”). EZ-L-Double E from the Mighty Mic Masters. They had that “psst, psst word… badadadah… word.” Cats didn’t want that kind of smoke. It was pretty cool.
You were just going around neighborhoods to neighborhoods? Boroughs to Boroughs?
Yeah. We would go to different high schools and different block parties. Sometimes they would be like there is this dude from this projects, and we would go over there.
Did you get money battling?
Nah… we never did it for money.
Roxanne Shante said that was how she got her money.
Well, I guess them Queens cats were on their hustle game a little more. I was just doing it to be the best. I wanted everybody to know that I am the best. It was that type of thing. It wasn’t about money.
Rakim said he used to come to Brooklyn to battle people.
He never came to your hood and set no smoke?
He never came my way, at least I don’t know about it. I mean people that came around that area, they would bring them to my block and yell up to the window.
They had to see you?
If someone came around like somewhere near Roosevelt projects or as far down as Green and Lexington, to battle someone, they would tell them “Nah… we ain’t got to do it. I got someone to battle you. Follow me.” And they would bring them to my crib.
It sharpened your skill?
There were a few that made me think that I had to change certain attacks, in certain situations.
In addition to you shifting the way that people rapped, and shifting the content of how people rapped, you also shifted the culture to bring new people in. Talk about discovering one of the most influential rappers on this era, JAY-Z.
This goes back to what we were saying earlier about battle rapping and the neighborhood situation.
I was became pretty popular. But there was this one guy… that was more popular than me. And I was like when I see this dude, we gonna get it on, and that was Jaz-O. He was the biggest unsigned dude (eventually he did get a deal). His name was bigger than mine in Brooklyn. He was that one that dude that I wanted to battle. I could never get to.
Fast forward: Now I am making records. I have a career. And Jaz has a career. I get a call from Shirt Kings that Fresh Gordon wanted me to do a mixtape with Jaz-O. And I am like “now is my chance.” So I am like can we do it as a battle? They said, “Yeah.” When we get there, Gordy says “Nah… no battle… we just y’all to spit some bars. Just showing love.” I say “Ok. Cool.” I always had respect for Jaz-O. I always thought he was nice as hell. But he had that Brooklyn supremacy, and I wanted it. We passed that point now, because back then we were making records. So then… Jaz says to me, “Do you mind if my man get on?” I was like “I don’t mind.” So he put, JAY on. We did the tape and on the ride back home, one of the Shirt Kings said, “We trying to get Jaz a new deal. So we want to shop that. Do you mind working with him?” And I said, “Honestly, I would rather work with the light-skinned mfer. I kinda like him a little better.”
Eventually, me and Jay wound up hooking up, and we went into the studio and started working. We started recording songs and tried to shop his stuff. But then I had to take a break, to go on tour with Pattie Labelle. When I went on tour with Patti, I saw like “Yo. Artists leave the stage and let their background singers sing… change clothes and come back out with different stuff on.” I was like “Oh, this is cool. I don’t see nobody in Hip-Hop doing this.” So when I got back I told JAY-Z and Positive K. I asked them if they wanted to go on tour with me. I brought them out and I started doing that. I would do half the show in an outfit and then call out JAY-Z and Pos K. let them spit some verses while I am in the back changing clothes, and come back out with a different outfit. So how they ended up being on tour with me.