Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of collaborating on a project with mashup legends Lance Herbstrong and arguably hip-hop’s greatest lyricist Big Daddy Kane.
They recently wrote a catchy song together called “Ripped” for the movie by the same name, a comedy about two stoners who smoke top-secret CIA weed in 1986 and time travel to 2016. When given an opportunity to speak with BDK, I pounced. Flashbacks of velcro sneakers, purple parachute pants and skating around the roller rink boppin’ to his 1989 hit “Smooth Operator” had me giddy.
What was Bed-Stuy in the ’70s like through the lens of someone so crucial in cementing the area’s rightful place in world history? Where’s his favorite place on Earth to perform? Does he even dig weed? Where’s he at with the world right now? And, what the fuck else is the iconic BDK cooking up these days?
The answers to these questions and more at the jump…
Big Daddy Kane: Yes, I believe we recorded at Record One Studios. The sessions were great. Quincy is a real producer. I really understand the definition of producer after working with him. It wasn’t the type of thing where he played a track, and I just rhymed. He’s in there asking, “What do you know about Miles Davis? What do you know about Sarah Vaughn?” He had his assistant bring in Black Encyclopedias, which I didn’t even know existed at the time. I would look up the history of Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie. He would tell stories about them, nicknames that they had, and stuff like that.
HT: Sounds like an educational experience.
BDK: Oh yeah, he broke down how fast rapping had similarities to Ella Fitzgerald’s style of jazz scatting. He even called Ella Fitzgerald on the phone, so I could say a rhyme to her in that fast rapping style.
HT: That’s amazing. I love it. Do you like to produce, as well?
BDK: Yeah, I like to produce. I like experimenting. You know, I’m a big fan of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I believe that music is music, so trying to entwine sounds and different genres to make them work together is something that has always been interesting to me.
HT: A few years back, Nutritious and I threw dance parties in Brooklyn and we had Easy Mo Bee [hip hop and R&B record producer known for his work with BDK, Miles Davis and Bad Boy Records] come out and DJ, alongside E-Man. You guys keep in touch?
BDK: Oh yeah, me and Mo Bee, we talk on the regular. Easy Mo Bee, he’s a freak of nature. The stuff that he hears in a record… I don’t even know what way his ear is tuned. I mean, he hears stuff that I don’t even hear in a record. I remember giving him a Donny Hathaway record because of two incredible sounds that I heard. Next thing I know, he incorporated about eight more different sounds that I didn’t even hear. He’s incredible.
HT: You guys worked together early on, right?
BDK: I believe I was the first artist he ever worked with back in ‘89 on my second album. I remember him telling me that he cashed the check from that project as soon as he got it and bought his own SP1200 and 950 sampler.
HT: New York in the ‘70s & ‘80s, that’s before my time there. I lived there for 13 years, but not until the ‘90s. Tell me about the good parts.
BDK: In the ‘70s, there were gangs like the Tomahawks and the Jolly Stompers. They would come through downtown Brooklyn near where Boys and Girls High School was located… I remember the block parties, people outside, DJs set up on the block, somebody’s grandmother was out there frying chicken. Everybody was on the block, partying and dancing, people lining up whenever they played stuff like “Love is the Message” or “Super Sporm.” They played them breaks and people lined up to rap. The ‘70s were cool. I really dig the ‘70s fashion because that was when you’d see a cat wearing a double knit sweater with some shiny gabardine slacks. They’d have on some Clyde Pumas or some Pro-Keds 69ers, you know?
HT: Speaking of that time period, you recently collaborated on a song called “Ripped” with Lance Herbstrong for the time travel stoner flick by the same name. I love the song, your delivery, the lyrics. It’s super funky. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my head when I first heard it. Tell me about your experience creating it.
BDK: Thank you. To be honest with you, it was different. Understanding what the film is about, I thought it was going to be difficult to write the song because I don’t smoke weed, you know? I didn’t really know where to go or the right things to say that a weed-head would want to hear. Of course, it’s important for me to write a song that reflects what the film is about. I had to find the right way to dance around it. It was a challenge, but I think we got it done.
HT: You never smoked weed before?
BDK: I tried it. But nah, it wasn’t for me. Plus, I had an asthma attack after trying it before, too. Yeah, I’m good on that. But, I tried it for a brief moment.
HT: In Ripped, the main characters experience legal weed for the first time. Have you been to a dispensary yet?
BDK: Actually, I performed at a dispensary that had just opened up for business. I was with my band in LA, and we had to practice. Instead of just renting a practice spot, we decided to put on a show at this dispensary and work out the kinks before we traveled to Japan for some Billboard Live shows.
HT: I’m sure everyone was psyched.
BDK: Oh yeah, it was packed. It was a new spot, so I don’t think their AC was really working right. It was a real sweatbox in there. But, everybody had a good time. What really tripped me out was that everybody was so energetic. I’m like where is this energy coming from if you high as hell, you know?
HT: They must’ve been smoking the uplifting strains.
BDK: [Laughs] Maybe.
HT: You’ve toured quite a bit. Ever hit Amsterdam?
BDK: I love Amsterdam. It’s a real hip-hop city. They love hip-hop. They love vintage hip-hop. They love conscious hip-hop. I always love performing there. I love performing at the Paradiso and the Milky Way. Those are probably my two favorite spots there. But, it’s a real hip-hop city. Ain’t nothing like waking up and seeing a canal and boats going past you in the morning. You’ll go outside, get a cup of coffee and somebody next to you is buying weed. I never even knew that machines that can actually roll joints for you existed until I went to one of those coffee shops.
HT: Yeah, they’ve got something for everything these days.
BDK: I’m like, “For real, that’s what’s happening in the world now? Y’all too lazy to roll your own joints?” [laughs]
HT: What’s your favorite place in the world to perform in?
BDK: I would have to say Europe. I love my American fan base, but when I’m performing in Europe, they don’t want to hear just the hits. They want to hear the album cuts, too. So yeah, my show is completely different over there.
HT: I would love to see you play a European set in America. If that happens, I will be front row and center.
BDK: Maybe, if I find the right place. I would love to.
HT: You doing any more film or features… anything else in the works?
BDK: Well, I did a song with Musiq Soulchild for Bootsy Collins’ new album called “Hot Saucer.” I mean, it’s hot. It’s a dance track. Kinda got like a DJ Quik type of feel to it. The music is killin’ it. His vocals are killin’ it. I put a verse to it. Boosty is in and out throughout it. Yeah, yeah, it’s hot. It’s actually a hot song.
HT: What other tricks are up your sleeve?
BDK: We’re working on a Juice Crew biopic, talking about the early lives of myself, Roxanne Shanté, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, Marly Marl and Mr. Magic. I think that’s going to be very interesting and entertaining. It’s going to be told through the eyes of Mr. Magic who is no longer with us, but a lot of people just don’t know how funny and real this dude was. He was a very interesting person and very important in the early stages of hip-hop because that’s who brought it to radio.
HT: I can’t wait to see that. Are you working on anything based on current events… anything political?
BDK: Yeah, actually I have been. I started working on some new stuff. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it yet. You know, I’ve been in that zone and that mindstate, so I’ve been writing not just about politics, but topics pertaining to the world today.
HT: There’s definitely plenty of fodder for that sort of project. This has been a tumultuous year in the world, so I imagine it inspires all kinds of emotions.
BDK: If it’s released, I’m hoping it’s something that can inspire a younger generation of artists. I don’t really picture myself picking up a bunch of new young fans, but there’s a young generation in hip-hop that I think can use their voice in a more positive way and still be dope. And, if I can show them a way to do it, I think that would be great.