Kool G Rap Interview

Kool G Rap Interview by Gentle Jones

The Kool Genius of Rap forged a new rap language which was born in the park jams of NYC during Hip-Hop's infancy. A true music legend of the highest caliber, Kool G Rap made his mark as the most eloquent lyricist of the world reknown Juice Crew, one of Hip-Hop's earliest and most influential supergroups. Though his rap acumen is well known, some may be surprised that even as a teenager G Rap was an avid crate digger, bringing in scores of samples for Marley Marl to arrange for his debut record Road to the Riches, now enjoying its 20 anniversary. From being steeped in the streets of Queensbridge to mastering the craft of an emcee, Kool G Rap saw the evolution of Hip-Hop as its history unfolded and remains relevant with new styles throughout each subsequent generation as he continues to build his timeless catalog.

Gentle Jones: Roc Raida recently passed, did you two work together?

Kool G Rap: DJ Roc Raida, that was my man, he used to DJ for me at my shows after me and Polo split up. I hadn't spoken to him in years and then we touched based last year for the first time, we were talking about starting to do things again. I heard he needed back surgery or something like that. I thought we was out of the woods as far as life and death were concerned.

Gentle Jones: How close were you?

Kool G Rap: We established a real close relationship. It was the 4,5,6 era. It was my first time going solo without DJ Polo, it was like a brand new day for me, I was stepping out on my own. It was a good time for me. Roc Raida became a part of that because I needed a DJ and I was cool with a couple people in the X-men, I had Dr. Butcher, he was like a monster on the wheels and he recommended to me that I should do some shows with Roc Raida. He popped a tape in my VCR of one of the DMC Championships and Roc Raida's set, when I seen this kid, I never seen no DJ do what Roc did, I was completely blown the fuck away. He was amazing. And I remember cats like Peter Parker, DJ Cashmoney, Jazzy Jeff and them. But I never seen nobody quite do the shit I seen Roc Raida do, like putting the fucking mixer on his back and cutting back and forth. He would get loose on the stage, like we would have a segment when we would just put the spotlight on him. I would stand back and watch and be just as entertained as the crowd, he never ceased to amaze me, his talent and skills with those turntables.

Gentle Jones: He was certainly ahead of his time, its fitting that you worked together since your style was always futuristic since the beginning.

Kool G Rap: Thank you. It means a lot for you to recognize that. A lot of people did say I was ahead of my time, especially back then. The times have finally caught up now. For me to be coming out 88, 89 and flowing the way I was flowing, and playing with the words, just showing the wordplay and metaphors. I definitely was ahead of my time.

Gentle Jones: Hip-Hop has expanded the possibilities a songwriter can explore, you've always taken advantage of that.

Kool G Rap: Its a hell of a job being a rapper, being a lyricist. Its way hell of a harder job than a regular songwriter. Rock songs, or songs in general, it may be 12 lines and maybe they repeat it twice and they have some choruses and maybe a couple of bridges and thats a complete record. Where is Hip-Hop you have to write three verses of different words, and to be a credible lyricist you gotta play with the words, you gotta stand out. Because you don't wanna sound like any Joe Schmo just picking up the mic for the first time. You got to be very clever with your wordplay, your metaphors, your flows. Thats what being a lyricist is to me.

Gentle Jones: What drove you to take your lyrics to the level that you did?

Kool G Rap: I'm very competitive. I wanted to box before I even rapped. And the first day I went to a boxing gym, the next day they closed down for good, can you fucking believe that? The gym was around for years, one of my homies, his older brother used to go to that gym. So the gym was around. As soon as I go there, and then I go there the next time to go back, the fucking gym is shut down for good, they said, “There's no boxing here no more.” I was so much wanting to box, I used to bring boxing gloves out in the streets and try to box people, even if somebody knocked my head off. I just wanted to learn, I wanted to be good at it. I knew dudes like Kevin Kelly, the Flushing Flash, I went to high school with him. I was in like 9th grade then. It was the same time I started to write that I wanted to box. But if I would of got in that ring I definitely would have knocked a couple of fucking heads off.

Gentle Jones: I heard that when you were a kid you were deep in the streets. Were you just fighting or doing illegal stuff or what?

Kool G Rap: When I was a kid in the streets I was doing illegal stuff and I was around illegal stuff. Some of the dudes I used to be around was pretty much famous dudes in the streets. My man Rah-Rah, they made a movie about my man with LL and Omar Epps called In Too Deep, that was about my man Rah-Rah but they used to call him God out in Boston. These dudes left Corona and went to Boston and made millions. I been around a lot of shit. If you turn Eric B and Rakim's first album around you see me on the back there with Eric and all of them and fucking the original 50 cent.

Gentle Jones: Were drugs a problem for the Juice Crew?

Kool G Rap: I know there was drug usage. Mostly anybody was using drugs. Cocaine wasn't nothing to be ashamed of at that time. That was out in the open, in the public, in the club, in the VIP section, the dudes that has coke and a hundred dollar bill, these was the dudes that had all the money, all the jewelry, all the woman, all the cars, these was the dudes who had names in the hood for being notorious or for being rich off the streets. The same place you see the dudes with the coke, you see the bottles of Dom P, you see all that. Nobody was even trying to hide certain things back in them days. So there was definitely drug usage because we was like the kids from the disco era, where everybody was flaunting cocaine, glorifying cocaine. We the kids from that era, there was disco and cocaine and that was it.

Gentle Jones: It's way more criminalized these days.

Kool G Rap: A user can get 5 to life or 7 to life for 3 grams of coke. Non violent offender. They were trying to put people away for life. Somebody using drugs, they just using, some people do it to party. And some people have to have it because they sick. You don't lock somebody up for life because they are sick.

Gentle Jones: What's the word on the new album?

Kool G Rap: I'm still working on “Offer You Can't Refuse”. I'm kinda playing Dr. Dre and taking my time, so that everything is right. I got a Just Blaze track on there, I got tracks from Domingo. I'm definitely sitting on some heat, and I'm not finished.

Gentle Jones: What happened with that G Unit deal?

Kool G Rap: 50 had called me one time and expressed interest in working with me, but it never materialized into anything. I'm not sure if he was going through something in his own life other than being a mega super star. We did chop it up and we spoke a couple of times. The reason the press ran with it so hard was because he was talking about working with me on some of the radio shows he was doing. He did a radio show with Tim Westwood in London and when he mentioned my name everybody in the station you hear them in the background going “Woo Hoo!”

Gentle Jones: You've had a few different situations since Cold Chillin Records and I guess Rawkus after that.

Kool G Rap: Rawkus was like the re-emergence of G Rap time frame, I appeared on a number of features at the time and was kinda resurfacing after a 3 or 4 year hiatus period. It was like a brand new day again when I signed with Rawkus.

Gentle Jones: Why was there a hiatus at that time?

Kool G Rap: It was Cold Chillin, it was finding the right situation again, putting myself in a position to create interest for another G Rap situation.

Gentle Jones: So in hindsight which of these labels has done the most for you?

Kool G Rap: Cold Chillin' created the G Rap legacy. That was a good time for Hip-Hop period, the time of Cold Chillin Records, Sleeping Bag Records. I mean Sleeping Bag wasn't really in the same league with Cold Chillin', because Cold Chillin became a name to be reckoned with. I mean it wasn't on a Def jam level, we was like the new kids on the block that was making a whole lot of noise. And people had to pay attention, we made the world pay attention.

Rawkus just tried to step in to maybe reinvent it, or resurface G Rap. They didn't play as important role as Cold Chillin'.

Gentle Jones: Shante was recently in the news, did you ever suspect that she might not have a PhD?

Kool G Rap: I never really thought about it too much. I did kind of believe that she had some sort of degree, but I didn't think that she had got a doctorate, because thats what 8 years of school? I figured maybe a bachelors or maybe even possibly a masters. I remember a time when Fly Ty said he was sending her to school.

Gentle Jones: They said she was only enrolled in college for 3 months.

Kool G Rap: Wow... wow... I mean, I don't know what she got out of that then. I don't know what she would get out of going to school for three months, and then I don't know what she would get from saying she got a doctor's degree only to have it come to light in the end, years later, that she didn't get a doctor's degree. I don't know what could have possibly came from any of that. But Shante is my homegirl, I love her, she was down with my clique back then, and I have memories with her. She's always considered family to me, when we see each other its all love.

Gentle Jones: You know one of these days they are going to be talking about you in these colleges.

Kool G Rap: Kool G Rap is already mentioned in colleges. I was performing in Boston and this professor gave me all these signatures from all the students in his class that appreciate Kool G Rap and said he actually teaches about Kool G Rap in his music class in Buffalo, New York. It took me totally by surprise. He had this overwhelming respect and admiration for me.

Gentle Jones: I have seen some cats give you credit for pioneering gangster rap or street rap. Where do you feel that style came from?

Kool G Rap: Some people did gangster rap, but some people did more what I like to refer to as reality rap. Ice Cube and them they did gangster shit, said gangster shit in some of they rhymes, but if you look at them as a total, as a artist Ice Cube was real positive in the shit he was saying. He was like an activist. If you listen to Amerikkka's Most Wanted, he's like a pro black activist pretty much. And Scarface did a lot of street shit, but when he was with the Ghetto Boys they would also do shit like Under Siege talking about how Reagan was in cahoots with Noreaga and all that shit, so these dudes was dropping science, it wasn't just “suck my dick bitch”, “I'll blow your fucking head off”, They had that element because that was the environment that they came from, but at the same time dudes was kicking real shit too. Some mental awareness shit. You've got to look at an artist as a whole.

Gentle Jones: So the day you recorded “It's a Demo” was the first time you met Marley Marl?

Kool G Rap: Yes, Polo brought me to meet Marley and we cut “It's a Demo” that night. They'd played it like immediately, when I cut the record everybody loved it so much they was pumping that shit on the radio like 2 or 3 days later. It was like a hit record in New York. It went to other places too, but at that time Cold Chillin' didn't have a situation with a major, it wasn't Cold Chillin Warner Brothers yet, so the record only got so far.

Gentle Jones: How long until you were being involved in the production side of your records?

Kool G Rap: Even from the beginning, even when I did my first album with Marley Marl. I used to bring the records to Marley and tell him what to sample. Marley got the credit, you know “Produced by Marley Marl” but that wasn't a big deal to me because back then he was the big name when G Rap wasn't nobody, at all. Even by me creating my own tracks he would throw his own little flavor, he might take the track and make it what everybody loved. The only thing I didn't do off the album was Its a Demo, everything else I brought the records. One Road to the Riches I brought the Billy Joel record. I brought the break beat record thats mixed in. I used to go to park jams when I was like 11 years old thats what D J's would be cutting so I already had a good idea of what the fuck I wanted to rap over. I would go record shopping and Polo was deejaying in parks then, he was like a neighborhood name in Corona Queens. So when we linked up anytime I wouldn't know the name of record Polo would know, so I would buy the records and bring them to Marley like “yo I want to use this, sample this with this, sample this with that” Everything I was bringing in to Marley he wasn't never disagreeing, he was as excited as I was to use them tracks. He never had a problem with none of my ideas. I was using all the stuff I loved since I was a kid.

Gentle Jones: Its amazing that you were working with fucking DJ Marley Marl and weren't even using his beats!

Kool G Rap: Marley Marl is incredible. Believe me, even with me bringing the records and telling him everything I wanted, because I already knew what I wanted to do, that doesn't take nothing away from him. In my eyes, even when I was creating my own music, he was DJ Marley Marl, I was nobody, just a kid coming up with a little name. He was an icon. Look at all the great things he did, remixes for LL Cool J, the Jingling Baby remix, the Symphony, look at the Bridge, the Check Out my Melody remix with Rakim, those shits is incredible. Maybe I should have let Marley do some of the fucking beats, (Laughs)

I already had my ideas about what I wanted to do. Me, Kane, and Biz, we are three people that I know of that had a lot to do with they own self under Marley.

You know what track Marley and Polo did do together and I passed up and I gave it to Biz?

Gentle Jones: Which one?

Kool G Rap: It was the beat for the Vapors.

Gentle Jones: Oh shit. That was for you?

Kool G Rap: It was for me. Polo and Marley went into the studio and put the track Vapors together and Biz, when he heard the track, he begged me for it. He didn't tell me what he had up his sleeves (laughs) but he was like “G, I will give you any beats you want, I want that beat.” and I wasn't too crazy about it, it was too smooth for me. I was straight hardcore. I told him to give me the I Gotcha beat and I have him the Vapors beat. I never once regretted it because I wouldn't have done what Biz did to that record to make it the record it came out to be.

Gentle Jones: What about the Symphony beat?

Kool G Rap: When the beat was first made I wasn't really that crazy about it. You know what it was, it seemed a little happy to me. And I didn't like happy tracks. Thats the reason I had given Biz the Vapors track, because the sound was a little happy. Now I am very biased to the fact that it has a lot more to do with history and memory, so when I hear the track now I'm like “that's that shit!” (Laughs)

Back then when Magic and Marley was on the radio like that and our whole establishment being Cold Chillin' Records and the Juice Crew, there wasn't too many records that they would play from our clique that wasn't hot. Any new shit that G Rap did, any new thing Biz did... I remember Pickin' Boogers they started playing it before it actually hit hard, and when I first heard it I was like “That shit is crazy! Biz is crazy!” Same thing with Raw with Kane I was like “Oh my god Kane done fucking lost his mind on this shit!” it was just amazing to be involved with a team that everybody put out great fucking music. Everybody was a phenomenal artist, Shan, Shante, I remember looking at Shante before I even got put on thinking “Wow, she really made a name for herself, this girl Roxanne Shante got a crazy name” and she had hot records and all that.

Gentle Jones: How long had the Juice Crew been around before you joined?

Kool G Rap: They had been around for a couple years maybe. I had definitely heard about the Juice Crew before, but the really didn't become the Juice Crew until they got a G Rap, and a Kane, and a Biz. Before they name was really buzzing on the radio they name was already buzzing to me because I was dead smack in the middle of Queensbridge, between Queens and Corona. I seen them bubbling from beneath.

Gentle Jones: Did you ever work with Tragedy (Intelligent Hoodlum)?

Kool G Rap: I knew of Tragedy before I even heard of the Juice Crew, he goes even before me. I didn't work with Trag too much. I worked with Kane more, worked with Biz. I never recorded with Shan even though we was homies, I mean we used to hang out and we would be booked on the same shows, I had a real close relationship with Shan.

Gentle Jones: Was there any truth in the rumor that you and Kane had a rivalry?

Kool G Rap: There was really no rivalry with me and Kane. I think me and Kane always been in competition but it was always like a friendly competition.

Gentle Jones: I heard Scoob and Scrap was your dancers first.

Kool G Rap: Nah. Not at all. Scoob and Scrap was always with Kane, they was from Brooklyn where Kane is from. Scoob and Scrap was just as much a part of the clique as anybody.

Gentle Jones: Was that them in the New York Streets video?

Kool G Rap: Those were my dancers. And I have to be honest I had the better set of dancers. They were the TCF crew they had come out with an R and B record on Cold Chillin' it meant “The Chosen Few.”

Gentle Jones: I was told a story about King A from the Kings of Pressure, he said Kane accidentally shot him in the arm and ended up giving him that huge Nefertiti chain, a Gucci suit, and some other stuff to keep it out of court.

Kool G Rap: Yeah. That was a true incident that did happen. I don't think he was trying to shoot nobody really. It was a small caliber gun and he was trying to shoot out the window, but by the bullet being a small caliber it kind of bounced off the window and hit somebody. (Laughter)

Gentle Jones: Who was writing for who within the Juice Crew?

Kool G Rap: Nobody never wrote nothing for G Rap. I wrote for Shante and I produced for Shan. I wrote a whole song for Shante called “Straight Razor” I wrote at least two songs for Shante and it was more like the horror shit. Kane wrote most of the radio commercial records and when they wanted something more sinister and lyrical then they came to G Rap to give her that element for her albums. I believe Kane may have wrote some stuff for Biz but I know the main writer for Biz was Grandmaster Caz from Cold Crush Four.

Gentle Jones: I love the Cold Crush, one of the best crews ever. Caz is the fucking dude.

Kool G Rap: My favorite groups was Cold Crush Four and The Force MCs. USA Rollerskating rink in Queens I seen Cold Crush Four and Force MCs before they was the Force MDs. The Cold Crush used to come out a little dressy because rappers back then used to dress up. They wasn't as dressed up at Soul Sonic Force or Melle Mel and the Furious Five but they was dressed up. I guess they lacked the same amount of money. Rappers didn't really come out in street wear at that time. When I first heard the Cold Crush I was already loving Hip-Hop but to hear the routines and the harmonizing they took it from the level of the “Yes yes y'all, to the beat y'all,” and they would take harmonies from songs that you know and convert them to Hip-Hop and rap form, and the beats they were doing it over those were the ultimate break beats of that time, shit like “Rocking in the Pocket.” Oh my God, what they were doing was hot. Thats was a hell of a time for Hip-Hop. When I was younger I thought Kool Moe Dee of the Treacherous Three was one of the most phenomenal rappers ever. Him and Melle Mel. I never thought Soul Sonic Force was no phenomenal rappers to me they just made great records and thats the credit I give them, but DJ Bambaataa I give a lot of credit because he was one of them dudes that helped push Hip-Hop period to the forefront, cause his name's been prominent from a very long time ago. Kool Herc might have started it and everybody knew Kool Herc, but Bambaataa I think pushed it out there more and more because his name started to eclipse Kool Herc.

Gentle Jones: I talked to Scorpio and he told me that Furious Five basically invented modern rapping.

Kool G Rap: DJ Flash took it to a whole 'nother level, they started to bring it from the parks and into the radio, to put Hip-Hop in its first vehicle to take it all the way mainstream. But I remember Funky Four Plus One before the Furious Five and they was rapping. I heard people rapping and became influenced before I knew who the Furious Five was. There was a Rapper named Ray Rock, they had Silky Sam, they had crews and stuff back then, a clique of girls called the Fly Girls, these are people are from my neighborhood. I remember DJs from my neighborhood, Disco Twins they was a prominent name in Queens, DJ Polo, DJ Smalls, C and C crew. I was rapping and stuff soon as I heard it. But I was more mimicking other peoples shit then. I didn't really get deep and write until age 13, when I had all my own written shit. Back when it first started, there wasn't a whole lot to rapping, it wasn't like you had to write verses. It was like “Yes yes y'all, to the beat y'all, freak freak yall, ya don't stop,” this is like the beginning stages I'm talking about. The rapper that really inspired me and really created the burning flame in me to be better than everybody was a rapper by the name Silver Fox of the Fantasy Three. He was a problem. At the time when the best rappers were Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel, when I heard Silver Fox I was like “Oh my God they got someone better than the fucking best!” He sounded futuristic, like he was from 5 years in the future. On the underground level he was like a monster, he was a beast. A lot of cats was scared of Silver Fox, because of his skills.

The pioneers and the dudes who really brought Hip-Hop to the masses was Run DMC, Furious Five was hot but they had a lot more records that was loved by the hood, except for the Message and White Lines which broke big on the radio. The first artist to take that shit completely over the top was Run DMC, they introduced us to the whole world.

Gentle Jones: I have an old tape of the Juice Crew tour in London in like 1989 where at the beginning of your set it sounds like maybe you dissed Ultramagntic Emcees and the Get Fresh Crew in your routine.

Kool G Rap: Did I?

Gentle Jones: Maybe it was Polo, you started the set saying “We are not...” and Polo dropped the record that said “Ultramagnetic” then you went “And we are not...” then Polo dropped “The Get Fresh Crew” and the crowd went ape shit.

Kool G Rap: (Laughs) Wow! Yeah I do remember that. You talking ancient history right now. At the time I didn't know them like that but I did have a respect for them because I liked they records. There wasn't any intention to dis it was just showmanship.

Gentle Jones: Bell Biv Devoe sampled you on “Poison” and it was a huge smash, did you ever meet them?

Kool G Rap: There was times we did meet, there was even a Cold Chillin / BBD basketball game. They slaughtered us! You would think Kane and Shan and G Rap could ball because we was more like the street dudes who would be in the courts, I know I used to be in the parks playing. We had no idea that these dudes could ball. Them dudes slaughtered us! (Laughter) When they came to new York for the Poison video they had me in the video, I don't know if that was a way to keep me cool so there don't be no lawsuits. (Laughs)

Gentle Jones: How did you find out they had used your sample?

Kool G Rap: I heard it on the radio like “Oh shit thats my voice!”

Gentle Jones: How do you feel about sampling and compensation, being as you've been sampled but also you've used hella loops on your records?

Kool G Rap: I have two ways I feel about that. I feel if somebody uses your whole creativity and makes profits without giving some kind of reward for that, I mean... that's one thing. But something as limited as taking your voice is more a complement than anything. It was an honor to me, that they would want to use G Rap voice saying Poison in the song and use it as many times in the song as they did. If I was thinking more back then I might have used it as an advantage to say “Listen, I need a song with Bell Biv Devoe on it.” Especially at that time that was like they heyday.

Gentle Jones: Is that Juice Crew movie going to get made?

Kool G Rap: I'm not sure because they was talking about it real heavy in 2007, I heard the deal just kinda fell through and he didn't get the budget he needed to complete the movie.

Gentle Jones: So what else have you got cooking?

Kool G Rap: Let me tell you the big secret, right now I am in the beginning stages of putting a gator shoe line, called Giancanna Gators.

Gentle Jones: You are gonna be killing them in church.

Kool G Rap: (Laughs) I'm a big fan of Maury's, they've been around since possibly the late 60's. I started rocking Maury Gator hard bottom shoes and then they start coming out with the sneaker versions and they look hot. Some of them are maybe leather and gator, sometimes all gator, maybe lizard, ostrich. A combination of precious skins. That's all I wear. I want to do the shit that I like. I got somebody doing designs for the ladies line and I've already picked out 3 or 4 of the ladies shoes. We get everything built original from the sole through whole make up of the shoe. This is not gonna be like somebody's shoes and we attach our name on it. We have to do a molding for the sole, for the upper part of the shoe, the whole shoe basically.

Gentle Jones: Who are your Top 5 Dead or Alive?

Kool G Rap: The elite rappers as far as flows and lyricsy, I would say Rakim, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, and then I would go to the West Coast and say Ice Cube, then into the Mid-West I would have to say Scarface. These are like some of my all time favorites and then I would say KRS One as well, Notorious BIG, as far as my preference, that's what I like to listen to. Then I have a hell of a appreciation for artists like Tupac, he wasn't like a lyrical gunner to me, he was more emotional, like a Marvin Gaye expression of Hip-Hop. Because that dude was a pile of emotion and a pile of character.

Gentle Jones: So who gets to be the G.O.A.T.?

Kool G Rap: I don' think there could be a greatest of all time because we love too many artists for too many different things, like I love Rakim for what Rakim did. On the other hand I think Slick Rick is phenomenal for what he did. I could play his first album to this day nothing sounds dated.

Gentle Jones: Who sold more records overall, Kane or Biz?

Kool G Rap: Biz is the biggest selling artist in the Juice Crew. Biz is the only artist with a platinum record. Kane did go gold. I had got a platinum plaque for Biz album, I got a gold plaque for Kane's record. Kane could have went close to platinum but I don't recall. Me, Shan, Shante, none of us received any gold plaques or anything like that. I don't feel no way about never going gold, because I know as far as longevity, I outlasted pretty much everybody from my time.


Terrific interview; props!

(that Shante song G Rap wrote should be "Straight Razor," I think thought, not "Straight Laser")
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