Grand G of "Project X - Armed and Dangerous"
By GENTLE JONES, originally published in The News Journal
Interview with Grand G
By Gentle Jones
Grand G is a Delaware legend. In the 80's he dropped singles under the pseudonym 3rd Dynasty (Gots Ta Get Funky) and an album called "Project X - Armed and Dangerous" which sold thousands in the greater Wilmington / Philly area and to this day still gets him recognized everywhere around his hometown. As a producer he's put in studio time beside such luminaries at Ivan "Doc" Rodriguez and Premier, where he honed his craft to an impeccable level. What really sets Grand apart from his contemporaries is not his extensive history, but rather his abundant talents in making amazing beats and dropping eloquent rhymes on them. A student of life, he's studied the making of gold records from behind the curtain and he's also seen the guns come out when the party turns sour. Here Grand G and Gentle Jones travel to have a chat over breakfast about how he became Wilmington's hometown hero.
Grand G: You know about the Post House on Market?
Gentle Jones: Yeah.
Grand G: Alright. You know if you prefer to go to Union that's cool...
Gentle Jones: Nah, that's just the one next to my house that I go to.
Grand G: Okay.
Gentle Jones: They're both the same to me.
Grand G: Yeah yeah
Gentle Jones: Alright yall, we are about to get some breakfast. Gentle Jones right here with Grand G.
Grand G: We just chilling, just riding through what I call the "Ton", Wilmington . I used to live by the prison.
Gentle Jones: Gander Hill?
Grand G: Yeah, Gander Hill. Now, the ironic thing is that alot of people feel insecure by a prison, but actually its one of the safest places to live, cause criminals, when they escape or do anything crazy, they don't tend to stay to close to the prison, they try and get as far away as they can. (laughs)
Gentle Jones: Yeah, my Mom used to work over by there a few years back.
Grand G: You had a good point the other day when you were talking about this show we got coming up. I can't keep coming out of pocket like this. I haven't even really went into full blossom with, like, really hitting the streets like that, you know. I went out yesterday, politicking with cats on the block, and I had 50 of them new CD's and cats was just coming up to me like, "What you holding?" They were gone like that.
Gentle Jones: That's what you do. Was these cats that already knew who you were?
Grand G: Pretty much it was a mixed crowd, young cats, cats from back in the day. My first joint I think really made such an impression at that particular time, that's what people ask about me every time I see them, they're like "Are you still doing that music thing?" That's what I've been known for. I'm like "Yeah yeah" but as time progressed I kind of, you know, lost the love for it. It became what I call "watered down". I didn't have the same drive for it. I mean I always did it as a hobby, but it became more personal for me. My own entertainment.
Gentle Jones: What was the first hip hop you heard?
Grand G: You know, that old 12 inch record with that one song on it that lasted like 35 minutes, like Sugar Hill Gang and all that, and I though it was cool, but it just didn't have that sound yet. It was different and it was something to listen to, but I think when I first fell in love with hip hop was... well, I guess I was pretty bright in school and constantly using big words, when I heard rap with the Rakim's and the Run DMC's it was cool. But I was like my words can go bigger than that. I liked Big Daddy Kane and I liked how he did his slick metaphors, but when I heard KRS ONE and Boogie Down Productions it was a wrap. He gave me the confidence that it was ok to be smart on the mic. You see, I always enunciated my words and rappers from New York, you know, they all had that accent. I was always clear with my words and sometimes it didn't sound street enough.
Gentle Jones: Yall used to have shows around here in the 80s.
Grand G: The city's parks and recreations would throw shows. They would grab anybody who was doing shit around here, the Doc D's and the Disco Beave's and those type of characters, and I was on that list. Alot of this was in the parks. I performed with Tuff Crew back then. I performed with Special Ed at the Wilmington High School . A whole bunch of different cats back then, it was cool.
Gentle Jones: Anybody got any of that on VCR tape or anything?
Grand G: Yeah, I got a couple joints on VCR tape.
Gentle Jones: How long had you been recording before the Project X album?
Grand G: It was early. When I first started all I was doing was writing. Writing in the crib or where ever, when I was maybe 15 or 16. Just writing. I guess when I first came out I was hungry, you know, and an older guy invested in me.
Gentle Jones: Oh, so you were lucky a little bit?
Grand G: Yeah, I was real blessed. At the time I didn't have a lot of direction in life and a friend of the family, named Troy, my uncle introduced us and he invested in me.
Gentle Jones: He came out of pocket?
Grand G: Yeah man, he met me he talked to me and asked me what I want to do and I'm like "I'm on this music shit" and I guess he was convinced about my hunger and two days later we went to Philly and we got this equipment.
Gentle Jones: What did you get back then?
Grand G: Most people were using SP 1200s back then. It was new to me and I didn't really know anything about the 1200, I just knew I needed a beat machine and I was smart enough to know that my beat machine was limited, so I went ahead and bought me a sampler with it. They were both made by Yamaha and I used them hand in hand to create sounds.
Gentle Jones: Did anyone else around here have that stuff?
Grand G: No.
Gentle Jones: I mean, cause there was no internet to look shit up, how did you know what to get?
Grand G: I did a little reading cause I didn't want this dude to waste his paper on account of my ignorance, but still, basically I had to trust the sales guy. There was a black guy at the store that I gravitated to and I told him, "Look, we're trying to do some hip hop. I don't need no rock and rolls or any of that shit" and he helped steer me in the right direction.
Gentle Jones: What year was that?
Grand G: 1987. So I went on hiatus for about a year, my tutelage, I went underground to learn how to use this equipment. Cause I didn't know anything about that, I just knew I wanted to do it. I was so excited I just would put the time in. Troy had a business and what happened was, he gave me a key and I would just be up in there.
Gentle Jones: What was this in like an industrial area?
Grand G: Yeah it was perfect. It was in South Bridge, he had a gas station. They sold alot of stuff like hydraulic oils and such, I would say it was more so like a trucking place. It was ideal because there was no complaining about the music being loud, I didn't have to worry about neighbors, I would be there at like 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.
Gentle Jones: Anybody else over there?
Grand G: It would just be me. I was just doing my thing. He gave me a key to the establishment and, man, I would spend the night there sometimes. He would come in and open up the shop in the morning and I would be there asleep in front of the beat machine. He was like "You have to take it somewhere, go wash up or something!" (laughs)
Gentle Jones: You get peace and quiet like that nowadays?
Grand G: No, it's so different now, because back then nobody knew who I was. I was just mastering my craft and nobody really new what I was doing. Now that I've established that, its like phone calls here, life situations there, you know, somebody wanting something here...
Gentle Jones: How much stuff did you put down before you let anybody hear it, like your family or whatever?
Grand G: Well back then me and my family weren't really cool like that, so Troy was kind of my savior back then.
Gentle Jones: I know he wanted to hear that stuff.
Grand G: Oh he definitely wanted to hear what I was doing after spending all that money! (laughs) He was the first. So after I got my stuff together I made my first few recordings.
Gentle Jones: What was the first one you recorded?
Grand G: Man, I don't even remember. I couldn't even tell you.
Gentle Jones: What, was it like some simple rhymes and a scratch hook or something?
Grand G: No, because at the time I didn't even have a turntable. We had an old reel to reel 4 track. I don't know where he got that, and then we went and bought a cassette tape 4 track, a Tascam so I learnt all the old school, I learned how to splice tape. Now I know I'm dating myself. (laughs)
Gentle Jones: (laughs) Yeah that's old school.
Grand G: I felt like my first official recording that I was happy with was "Gots to Get Funky".
Gentle Jones: That's on the "Project X".
Grand G: Yep.
Gentle Jones: Did you do all the production on that record?
Grand G: Well, IOR did their own and Todd 1, a Philly radio DJ (RIP), did his own beat. But everybody else I did their beat, Isaiah "Riverside Bucket Two Six", Silk and Satin, Fred G, that's when I really started branching out.
Gentle Jones: I don't think alot of people knew that you had your fingerprints on almost every track on the album.
Grand G: No, the general public around here definitely did not know that, I don't think so.
Gentle Jones: Whose cell phone is that on the cover?
Grand G: (laughs) That's back when cell phones looked like VCRs.
Gentle Jones: That's a 3000 dollar phone, man!
Grand G: Yeah, yeah, that was the guy who was funding my thing, that was his joint! (laughs)
Gentle Jones: He had it like that?
Grand G: Yeah he was doing it big. It was a true blessing that I ran into him.
Gentle Jones: So that's all he was doing?
Grand G: At that stage in the game, you know, I was naïve. I was young.
Gentle Jones: What were you supposed to know? As a teenager I didn't know my ass from my elbow.
Grand G: I heard that, I definitely was stuck on that same corner! (laughs) I wasn't really street oriented, it was something he was doing that until later in my life I didn't know about, and don't choose to discuss, but he was getting paid.
Gentle Jones: Those phones were super expensive. I didn't know nobody who had one.
Grand G: I didn't either, I had never even seen them. I had seen the ones, you know, like stuck in the car with a bag.
Gentle Jones: So he was involved the whole time the photo shoots and all that?
Grand G: He paid for everything; he invested a lot of paper period. He did everything. He did the photo shoots, anything that had to deal with paper, he took care of it. He wasn't a rapper but he put out the record.
Gentle Jones: But you did all the work.
Grand G: Yeah, I made the cover, did the beats, picked out the rappers. That was my baby right there. He kinda made he have to do everything, all the artwork, the text on the cover.
Gentle Jones: It was very well done, I mean this is my opinion, but when you listen to the album you hear all the elements that were in New York, Philly, or wherever at the time and the level of quality is consistent with all the other stuff that was then. It's a good record.
Grand G: I appreciate that. One of the other beautiful things about the "Project X" that people don't know that I did, I mean I did the beats, the cover design, somebody else took the picture of course- (phone rings)
Hold up... I gotta take this call.... Hello? Yeah I put it under your seat so no one would break into the whip... yeah for a radio they will... I know if they broke into my car and took a pie and some change they will definitely steal your radio...ha-ha ok...you gonna stop by?... yeah... Alright baby... (To Jones) Had to talk to my woman.
Gentle Jones: Mine will be calling soon. (laughs)
Grand G: Hahaha, I know that...So basically we had a professional photographer take the pictures and then we got it all together, and he (Troy) took me to Kinko's and sat me in front of the computer and was like "Make it happen." So, basically, at an early age I had to take the templates, you know, had to learn about templates.
Gentle Jones: There was no PhotoShop then.
Grand G: Nah, it was all manual. It was like a schematic, or a blue print on paper, you had to take the picture and physically adhered it to the paper. Then, had to take the graphics and shrink it to the proper size, the text and all, on clear plastic paper. You had certain transparent paper, lay that on top of the picture, it was a long, tedious process.
Gentle Jones: It doesn't say that on the tape, that you did all the art design. So I had no idea you were doing all that. You did a pretty good job.
Grand G: I appreciate that. You know, I wasn't even promoting that sort of thing like, oh I did this, I did that, at the time I was just trying to do this music.
Gentle Jones: How long did it take you to put all that shit together?
Grand G: We worked on the tracks and everything like maybe 4 to 5 months to put all that together. There was a learning curve for every part of the process, except for the music because I had already learned that. But I was blessed because all the recording we did in New York. We didn't do any recording down here. You know my man had a couple dollars and he said he wanted to do it big.
Gentle Jones: And you were happy to go to New York .
Grand G: I was with him. One of the biggest studios at the time, where all the big boys were recording, was Power Play. That was the first time I got acclimated to that big studio setting. It was high tech. They had the SSL boards, which at that time frame was like the first automated board, basically when you did mix downs the faders slid and it remembered that.
Gentle Jones: I don't even know how much that would cost.
Grand G: Aw man, it was major paper. It was like a buck seventy five an hour to record. Everybody went there, KRS ONE, Rakim…
Gentle Jones: Were you going in there and poop butting around, writing in the studio?
Grand G: No, no, you coming in there for a buck seventy five an hour you better have your shit together. I mean I don't care what year it is, a buck seventy five you might want to have your whole package together! (laughs) I came up there ready to go, it was like straight business. I was blessed. I got to know Ivan "Doc" Rodriguez. He was a big time hip hop engineer back then. He took a real liking to me, so I was blessed with the opportunity to start coming up there and hanging out with him. He would have me over to his crib; he used to let me into sessions with the big boys.
Gentle Jones: Oh, really?
Grand G: Yeah, MC Lyte recorded her stuff with him, EPMD, Doc recorded their album, I think it was the "Unfinished Business" record if I recall. Those were some big cats. Not even fat, I mean they were six foot plus and just huge. In the studio they were steady having fun and cracking jokes the whole time then they started wrestling right in the place! Like BOOM! on the floor and then BOOM! up on the wall and Ivan was like "You guys are gonna break the equipment!" and K Solo was there like "I'm not wrestling yall but I'll box."
Gentle Jones: Hilarious.
Grand G: Biz Mark also recorded his "Just a Friend" single there.
(Both sing the hook) "You got what I need"
Grand G: Yeah I remember I came in and Ivan had just wrapped up that session and he was like, "Yo, Grand, check out this new track!" I was the first to hear it. I said, "This is wack!" (laughs) Ivan was all, "No way this is gonna sell like hotcakes, man." And I was saying, "This is garbage!" (Laughs)
Gentle Jones: (Laughing) They sold the hell out of that record and still do. That must have been a blast being around those moments.
Grand G: Man, I got pictures and stuff, but I was just hanging out, trying to get in. I was on a mission. I actually moved to New York for like a year. My mans, he had some people up there, like an uncle, and he let me stay there. That's when I really started going hard. You know, I was hanging out with the rappers.
Gentle Jones: Where they open to you?
Grand G: At first it was hard.
Gentle Jones: What you mean, that nobody knew who the hell you were?
Grand G: Yeah it was just that. But then they saw that I was, like, on some eager shit. Where I was like, you know, they always say if you keep going to the barber shop, eventually you're gonna get a hair cut, I was like, just kept hanging around, and hanging around, (laughs) hanging around even when I wasn't wanted, just hanging around, you know what I mean? If they told me to get out the studio, I would stand out front the studio, till they be like "Now what are you doing?" Eventually, they started letting me in. Ivan took a liking to me, but what really set the tone was when I met DJ Premier though the female group that was on the "Project X" record (Silk and Satin) he was attracted to one of them . He naturally sees me with them so he's like "Put in a good word." So I used that to my advantage. (laughs) On some real shit, like "Ok, I sure will." So they had these things called new music seminars, it's like the thing where all the industry cats got together and had their little panels and forums. But the main focus was the deejay and emcee battles, and me and him are sitting next to each other cause you know he's like, "Hook me up with your girl," and I'm like "Yeah yeah, I talked to her" you know, I'm like, playing it off, stalling him out and just waiting till I can get in with him. So I'm like, hanging out with him and we're building a relationship. I mean he knew me by sight and soon enough he started introducing me to emcees like "This is my man from Delaware" and x y z…
Gentle Jones: Had any of them known anyone from Delaware?
Grand G: At that time frame, no, half of them didn't even know what Delaware was about. Like Dela what? Dela where? So I had to break it down, even associating myself with Philly like "Its right next to Philadelphia," and they're like "Okay, I know where that is."
Gentle Jones: When I was in the military, it was the same thing, people don't know about it. People who drive up and down 95, some of them know about it, but for the most part people have no idea.
Grand G: Right, just a pass through state.
Gentle Jones: Delaware is the finest state in the union if you ask me. Anything you can do anywhere else we got right here.
Grand G: I know that's right. Alotta people think its all country and yadda yadda yadda…
Gentle Jones: We got that, too.
Grand G: Every hood is the same, there's projects, there's killers, there's people balling, people playing sports, people making music, this, that, and the third. Every hood got the same thing. It's just from state to state it's a different scale. But there's still projects, people still get murdered. We got prisons. We got everything that everybody else got. It's like our prisons ain't no softer. You can still get murked in there, and everything that goes along with it.
Gentle Jones: So with Premier were you seeing him in the studio too or just at industry type stuff?
Grand G: Well it started on just some old regular passing by thing at those week long conventions, industry stuff.
Gentle Jones: Yeah, I would go to some of those type conventions for the skateboard industry. At night everyone just hangs out in hotel rooms.
Grand G: Exactly, it's the same thing. So pretty much what happened was I started letting him listen to some of my stuff, to get his opinion. And he was like "Hey man, you got some good sampling skills"
Gentle Jones: So he did hear you material.
Grand G: That was my whole reason for getting with him.
Gentle Jones: How long was it before "please listen to my demo"?
Grand G: (laughs) I took my time with it, you know like I said about the girl thing, I played it smooth and that bought me plenty of time. So like during conversations I just ease that in like "Oh yeah, I rap, too." Never like "Yo check this out," but more like "yeah, I make beats, too." You know what I mean, like "I make a little of this, too."
Gentle Jones: Had you put the "Project X" joint out at that point?
Grand G: Oh yeah, I was ready for him. Had it on me and everything. But I wasn't trying to hammer him with it, I was trying to get cool with him. He was a real cool cat, I mean I dug the cat, on some regular stuff. You know, I was trying to build a real relationship, past the music part. So finally it gets to, "Listen to this stuff," and he listened to it and gave me his opinion. For a while man, I had his number at the crib, we would talk when I went back to Delaware. But then the mistake I made back then was [pauses] I believe I would have made it then because I was really rubbing elbows, and not on no fantasy island Mr. Rourke shit, I have no reason to lie, Latifa had invited me to her birthday party, and I wasn't even a rapper, so obviously I was getting known by these people.
Gentle Jones: Well, you're a nice person too man, I think you're real easy to get along with.
Grand G: I don't cause no waves. Unless the storm come to me.
Gentle Jones: How was Latifa's birthday party?
Grand G: I will never forget it, the club had a front door that was designed to look like a bank vault. Everybody was there, having a great time. Then one of the Jungle Brothers started getting into it with YZ and everybody started pulling out guns. Basically that was the end of the party.
Gentle Jones: Oh shit.
Grand G: I remember one time, we had just come back from the Palladium. I remember it was Digital Underground -
Gentle Jones: Was Tupac dancing there?
Grand G: If he was I don't remember seeing him, I mean if he was, he was wearing his too black and I'm proud shirt, he wasn't all tatted up. But it was me, Q Tip, and Premier, and we're walking to the subway after the show and Q Tip said, "Man, you never gonna make it unless you move up here," and I had no idea how I would pay for rent, and eat, and all that, I mean the dude I was staying with was doing me a favor.
Gentle Jones: Did Q Tip and them say, "Come stay with us?"
Grand G: Nah, they damn sure didn't say that cause I prolly would have left, I ain't gonna front. I would have been like, "Okay, let's make it happen," but at the time I was somewhat scared to take that chance. I mean, what would I do? I was 18. And also, if it didn't happen, being broke in New York is rough.
Gentle Jones: You could at least talk your way into a DART bus ride in Wilmington .
Grand G: Yeah, in New York you would have to beg for four hours just to catch the subway, you'd have to get a few ones together for that. Don't even think about no cabs and all that. So anyway, my mistake was this: just after that I came back to Delaware. The guy in New York who I was staying with became uncomfortable with me being there, because I ain't have no job, and he had a daughter, and he thought...
Gentle Jones: Was she pretty?
Grand G: Yeah, she was right. But that was one of the FIRST rules he laid down when I stepped in the joint. He was like, "Look, motherfucker, I got two rules, one: when I get up for work, you gonna get your ass up get out the house and two: don't let me ever catch you messing with my daughter." (laughs) I was like, "Alright." and I left it alone
Gentle Jones: What would you do in the morning just go out?
Grand G: When he went to work I would go out.
Gentle Jones: Were you making beats at the time?
Grand G: Yup.
Gentle Jones: So you could only make beats at night while he was home?
Grand G: Right, that's why I was hanging at them studios, cause I didn't have nothing to do. That was my job every day to hang at the studio and rub elbows. I didn't get paid but they were like, "You here again?" I'm like, "Yeah I'm here." (laughs) But it worked out really well, because I got to meet alot of people.
Gentle Jones: When was the last time you saw any of them?
Grand G: I saw Premier in like 95 – 96, this was when I was still hungry for hip hop, just before it was about to go sour for me. I had this management group from New York that had caught on to me from hearing my stuff. So they brought me up there, we shot the shit, and signed a little baby management contract, and they went to work on me. Around then I was rapping with Fred G from the "Project X" and at the time my lyrical content was changing as my life was changing. You see, in the beginning, I wasn't very street oriented. But by that time I had been on the block and was extremely street oriented and my life was taking a different course. I wasn't that same happy go lucky kid anymore. Not to get too deep but when I was 17 I left home and never went back, never looked back. The only time I went back was one time when my mom was doing bad and she needed some assistance. And, shit, by the time that happened I was 29 years old. So imagine from 17 to 29 being on the block, that book knowledge and trying to stay in school went out the window. There ain't no going home like, "I can't take it." That's where you at. You either gonna survive or fall on the wayside. And I wasn't going out like that. And that's when the record company started really feeling the group, or rather one person in particular (Grand) and I was about to tell my boy, "Look I'm about to go and do my thing and then come back and get you." But then I was in that street shit and kinda got myself into a little trouble and got incarcerated.
Gentle Jones: For how long?
Grand G: Two Years.
Gentle Jones: Damn.
Grand G: But they rode for me in New York, there was a cat from Atlantic Records who really liked my stuff, but when I got incarcerated they were like, "Fuck it." You see, two years don't seem like a long time, but in the record business that's a real long time and back then it was a deal breaker. And basically I was just like, "Fuck it, I'm just gonna be a street cat." And then the rap game just got crazy, everybody on the radio shaking and dancing -
Gentle Jones: All "chicken noodle soup –"
Grand G: "- with a soda on the side" what type of crap is that? You see what's happening now with what I'm doing, you can't change the foundation, and what I'm saying is that back then, it wasn't about paper, it was about having good beats and putting out good music and making the crowd go sick over it like "this shits knocking!"
Gentle Jones: So what are you working with right now?
Grand G: I just opened a new studio in Upper Darby with a partner, its called Cheeks Studios www.cheekstudios.com the address is 450 Long Lane. My new solo album "Who Can You Trust?" is on the way and should be released independently in 2007. I am negotiations with Premier to have him do my lead single from the album. I will also probably have a track with Bezel from Dipset. I've been busy with my production company Stakbeatz, plus I plan on helping out with Allhiphop Week and attending the Billboard Awards this fall in Atlanta. July the 13th I will be performing at the Eargasm at Club Quest so come and check me out.
Gentle Jones: Thanks for taking some time to chat today, its been a pleasure as always.
You can holler at Grand G at www.myspace.com/grandg