Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Big Bad Wu

This was another interview that almost didn't happen. The Wu-Tang Clan left the Phono Booth, our surrogate TV studio and neighborhood record store before I arrived for our scheduled interview. Imagine my disappointment. I called the label and spoke to a woman named named Charm. She shared my frustration.

Charm called their road manger right then and I stepped away from the phone. When I got back, she was laying into him something fierce. She apologized for her strong language and asked me if I could meet them at Ivory's Uptown Lounge. After seeing how she handled business, I couldn't say no.

When we walked in the VIP at Ivory's, the group recognized my partner Dre from the record store, where he worked. Dre had put then in touch with a gentleman who distributed organic pharmaceuticals independently and they indicated their pleasure with the transaction. The road manager was apologetic and invited us to film the performance.

Cash didn't rule that night. The clan were on a promotional tour with label mates the Alkaholics and performed for free. The Wu-Tang Clan was in full effect, minus at least three members. Ol' Dirty Bastard was missing in action. Ghostface was chilling with his newborn twins and RZA was producing some next shillznit.

In this interview, Method Man makes some weird noises, GZA admits to some career missteps and Raekwon predicts the future.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Flight Director

I didn’t do Wavelength all by myself. There were many people who supported and encouraged my efforts. Pookie, Kia, Lance, Carlos, Adrian, Derek, Paul, Lorna, Sir Lance ... But none more directly than Arthur F.D. Johnson, Jr. My director, producer, mentor, and friend. For a long time, before I made a move, I talked A.J. first

We met volunteering at the community access station on a long-running public affairs show. We both quit after the host was involved in a domestic dispute. A spot on the schedule opened soon afterwards and we decided to alternate. Wavelength one week, and A.J.’s show Points of Interest the next. P.O.I. was a retread of the other talk show we bounced from, minus the ego and drama.

A.J. didn’t know rap. But he knew how to work the equipment at the studio and he had his own video camera. He also had a hook-up on the postage, and I never had to pay for the countless cassettes and cds I sent out to contest winners. I could've made it without him, but it would've been hard.

Even his mistakes inspired me. His hesitation to cut to the next video usually led to some of my best ad-libs and one liners, aimed at Mr. Johnson. I was only kidding, A.J. Really.

When our live shows ended, we began shooting Wavelength entirely on location. By then, I had my own camera and luckily my job at the university afforded me access to editing equipment. I missed the fun of the live shows, but I enjoyed my newfound independence. A.J. and I didn’t speak as often and we seemed to be heading in different directions.

While Wavelength moved from cable to broadcast, and back again, A.J. stayed at the public access studio. Last time I checked, someone had put him in charge of the place.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Queens Get the Money

There was barely a buzz on Mobb Deep when they appeared on Wavelength. It was more like a hum. The group was known for their DJ Premier-produced single "Peer Pressure," off their first album. It was known that they were now producing themselves and everybody was waiting to see what they could do. Their second album, "The Infamous," was worth the wait. The duo established themselves as a benchmark for "keeping it real," and were the first to use the phrase on Wavelength.

As soon as the Queensbridge duo stepped into the Phono Booth, everybody wanted to know if what they had heard for years was true. Was Prodigy really the cousin of a local music producer? The producer's name kept coming up, the duo met each mention with implicit denials. It was explained later that they weren't exactly sure who everybody was talking about, and they weren't about to align themselves with someone whom they might not know. "Shook Ones" they weren't about to be. (Later, the claims were proven when Prodigy guested on a demo he produced.)

Prodigy's cousin, Diallo is still waitin' for a shot a remix.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Half Pint Pt. 2: Not the Average Chick

Rapper turnt school teacher Cassandra Jackson talks about being the only female in a group that sometimes spit misogynist lyrics, the state of hip hop and why Half Pint is for the children.

Do you ever think of picking up the mic again?

I thought of getting back in the game several times but I'm not sure people want to hear what I have to say. I'm not about capitalism, I'm about revolution. I think my stage is my classroom now. I can educate and nurture the souls and minds of young brothas and sistas with relevant information. We are reflections of each other they get what I saying, even if they don't at that moment, they know my heart and soul goes into my teaching like a performance. When they see me in the streets I can hear and see the spark I helped ignite that started in the classroom.
We are now corrupted with corporate hip hop and the essence of what it was all about got lost when the infiltrators started flashing cash for the young brothas and sistas to sell their souls. Again, I ain't tryin' to knock nobody's hustle but hip hop is supposed to be about diversity, unity, community and commentary, not capitalism, oversaturation of one form or destruction of oneself.
As consumers, we have the power to say this is what we want to hear this is hip hop. Unfortunately, its like "The Matrix," or something when someone else tells you what's hot and what's not. (say it enough people will believe) and we become the pawn in a game we once controlled because it was once pure now it's tainted. Hip hop was about braggin' and boastin' (on what we wanted not had) with ideas of improvement and upward mobility because of the conditions in which we lived in were not fit for humans and we needed to let others know we do exist we are humans.
Now that hip hop has given the opportunity to keep up with the Joneses it has become an individualistic culture. We are tryin' to take the top man down instead of standing beside them, growing and helping the community grow. The old schoolers know and understand that concept the youngsters don't. They have been brainwashed into believing that thuggin' makes you man and that sexin' makes you a woman and that money makes you better than the next person. (Let me get off my soap box.)

Have there been any attempts to reunite the group?
We never really talked about a reunion but I think that would be real fun to do after all this time. Daddy Raw does a lot of demo work with people from the area tryin' to break into business he is also working on his own project. I still have some of the outfits from those days (can't really fit them, not yet anyway) but I can't let them go, I love them.

Talk about what it was like in the studio, and the meaning of the song title "N-41."

The studio vibe was crazy. It was some long hours but is fun. I remember recording N-41 which was our last song to record and the concept as I said before was about steppin' into a different dimension ridin', rhymin' and doin' all the stuff you use to do back in the day. I thought it would be ill if when I started I did it like the twilight zone, then end up rowdy like I wanted to get things movin'. During the makin' of the album I wanted to rhyme on the mic but most of the stuff had been done before hand so I didn't have a chance to display my skills, so I thought it would be funny If I kept tryin' on this song the last song to rhyme( with hopes of more rhyming on the next album) When it was finally my turn I started out rhymin' but Bazerk threw me off because he was like, "Yo let's go this our stop (or something like that) and they were actin like they were leaving the booth while I was rhyming so that's when I said YOU DON'T KNOW ME, SO DON'T SWEAT IT ... and by the time I finished so was the reel. It was so hot it was the first and only take done, even though I had completely skipped almost an entire verse I thought that what I did fit the entire mood, craziness and fun we use to have in the studio. Keith Shocklee said "Yo, that's hot leave it just like that," and we did. We did a lot of snapping and playing jokes but it was not all fun and games. Work was first and foremost.
Anyway, N-41 was the name of the bus line that went through Freeport. If you had to ride the bus you usually took that one. We were trying to create a mental picture of gettin' on the bus entering another dimension, riding on the back of the bus rhyming like they use to do back in the days.

At the end of Honesty, there is an interlude where a club owner informs his customers, that" if they ain't buyin' nothin', don't hang around ..." I think it's the same voice at the end of "Trapped inside the Rage of Jahwell." Was this a sample? Where is it from?

The talking is actual events taking place at a bar called Fleetwood's. The
voice is the bar owner on the mic at the club one night. The guys frequented the place, I was too young to go into there.

Do you ever see any of your labelmates, the YBT?

I saw Kam about two years ago I think he still lives out here, I don't know. I believe Skribble is the only one still out there. I see everybody from time to time (not at the same time) I don't really go out, my students take up all my time and when not at work, I'm at home trying to relax. I think being on the road and touring and the fun stuff I did wore me out. I don't think I'm old, it's just going out can be hazardous to ones' health, ya know. It ain't hip hop like it use to be. I still LOVE hip hop 4 life it's just has become more of a reflection of society with no release of tension in sight.
Remember when label wouldn't even sign someone with a [criminal] record now it's a prerequisite. I am glad brothas and sistas are getting paid to do what they love but sometimes I think the cost may be too high when some are not keeping it real. And impressionable people think that's what Hip Hop is.

How did you find out that the second album wasn't going to be released?

Once we finished about 7 songs we found out SOUL was folding. We heard Rick Rubin was interested but I don't know what happened with that.

Did it bother you when Bazerk talked about pimps, ho's and bitches?

At first I had a problem with it because I thought it was disrespectful to me and other women. Unfortunately, I realized the targeted audience (men) used these terms to describe a certain kind of female I did not become familiar with until I went on the road. I still did not condone the language but I began to understand it. As usual my job was to keep the guys in check and educate the females about the issue but the females didn't buy it. The type of female they were referring to liked that they were being noticed no matter how disrespectful the message was.
Some seem to think that if your were offended then they are talking to you, but the reality is that the ones who should be offended are so lost they don't even know they are being disrespected. That is why I was a proud member of the hip hop community, where I could be apart of a group that at times could have been disrespectful to females but I was that strong minded independent woman who says straighten up and I took no sh*t.
Being the only women in the group gave me the edge to put sistas on to a brothas game but I can only lead 'em to the water I can't make 'em drink it. That's why the cut I did for the 2nd album was entitled "No Fair Ones" I was tryin to let 'em know, I ain't the average chick.
Just for reading the end of this interview, here's an unreleased Son of Bazerk track. Half Pint is all over this one. Here's Can't You See?