The Almighty Kay Gee Interview (by A to the L)
“Boom, the Almighty Kay Gee from the CCB…” Yes folks, Kay Gee is MUCH more than just the first words you hear on KRS-One’s self-titled album. As a member of the legendary Cold Crush Brothers, Kay Gee was one of the original pioneers of Hiphop music. With a history as long and as colorful as Kay Gee’s it was obvious from the outset that this was gonna be a long, but enjoyable, interview. (So long in fact, that a Part 2 followup has been loosely scheduled in the coming months.) Get ready to throwdown…
OK, a lot of people who come to this site or your site may not be aware of the history or the relevance of the Cold Crush Brothers to today’s Hiphop industry. Who exactly were the Cold Crush Brothers and what did they do to make them such famous names?
KG: Well basically, we blazed a trail for every emcee that’s emceeing today. There wasn’t really too much before us… before we started out. We were all originally in different groups, and then we formed up and became one group and became the Cold Crush Brothers. And its when we formed like Voltron, that we started dominating the Hiphop industry. As far as our status – well, every emcee that you’ve ever heard of, or that THEY’VE ever heard of… let me put it like this – there’s somebody who heard somebody who heard somebody who hear somebody…. and we were the first people to be heard.
And Cold Crush also have the unique position of having this amazing reputation without really putting out an album…
KG: Right. Well, we were the first people to create street mixtapes, and that was how we build up our rep.
And this was how long ago?
KG: 1980… 1981. Tapes were being made back in the 70’s, but it wasn’t major until we started putting out hiphop tapes worldwide. We sold platinum just through our tapes – I mean multi-platinum, 100 million tapes! You bought the tape for three or four or five dollars… and that tape made thousands of dupes (duplicates). I guess we gotta thank Phillips for that, since they invented the audio tape! Seriously though, we were one of the first cats to really blow that up, and make the mixtape industry what it is today.
What happened to you guys as Hiphop blew up with Sugarhill and Flash and them cats? They started to put out twelves and albums, and although you guys did release a few things, there was nothing to the scale of other artists at that time. Was there a reason you kinda stayed away from official releases?
KG: Well, we wanted to stay original… and the people that was putting out the records was robbing people. You know you got the Sugarhill rip off with Caz, and then also Sugarhill also had Flash and the Furious, and the Funky, and The Treacherous and all the people that was associated with their label… and we didn’t want no part of that because we heard all of the rumours about the label. We stayed away from the record thing until a little later on, and then we started making records here and there –
Do you ever regret making that decision, and regret not jumping on the record-making machine earlier?
KG: Nah, not really. You know, great things come in many different forms… and for me being associated with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the Jimi Hendrix Museum out is Seattle, and being in every library in the world in five ot ten books – that’s more rewarding than anything. I can leave this planet tomorrow, and people will read about me forever.
But at the same time, don’t you think that its more difficult for heads today who maybe want to hear Cold Crush to actually get your performances on these tapes, than it is to pick up a Flash or a Kurtis Blow compilation which was ‘officially released’?
KG: Well, we do have records out. We do have wax. We got ‘Fresh Wild Fly And Bold’, ‘Heartbreakers’, ‘The Weekend’, ‘Punk Rock Rap’… so we got stuff out that people can listen to. Its one of those kind of items that you gotta search for on the internet. And then, I got my site Hiporhop.com, which offers the chance to listen to live performances from back in the days. That was the whole object of putting that site together – to give the younger cats who don’t know the Hiphop history and wanna be connected and to understand it… they can listen to those old performances. Its an ongoing thing for me too. I’m always putting new stuff up, and adding new stuff to the stuff, and basically just giving my consumers, and all Hiphop fans a chance to get something they can own, and they can purchase for themselves. The real great thing too is how I deliver it – when you pay for it, you get it right now. You don’t have to wait for it to come in the mail – you get it right there, and you can pump it right there. There’s also live performance videos up there that you can purchase and save to your hard drive and watch them whenever you want… and that helps in two ways. One – you’re actually getting to see the Cold Crush and taking part in Hiphop history yourself by doing so, but also you’re gonna be taught how to perform – how to work a stage, and captivate an audience.
Keeping with this subject – there’s really very few Hiphop artist who are taking full advantage of the internet, and many who remain totally ignorant of it altogether. Why do you think the majority of artists continue to turn away from the advantages of using the ‘net?
KG: To a lot of old and new cats, the internet seems huge. But its really only huge for those who understand it and respect its power. Most people today are still very analogue – they’ve been programmed to remain analogue and NOT take it to that high-definition level. And also, there’s still a lot of people who don’t have a computer in their house. So, I can understand how they can get caught up and don’t understand… is a computer gonna make their life different? Yes of course, but they don’t know that yet. Me personally I’m a Hiphop geek… I’ve been down since Pong! I’ve been playing Pong before people even knew what a home games system was. So for me, its been a natural progression for me – I’ve always been into computer systems and stuff. As far as Hiphop is concerned, I’ve tried to express to people how the internet is gonna be the way to sell music – one day its gonna be the ONLY way to get music, cos people ain’t gonna be wanting to go the stores no more. And that’s another reason why I created the site – not just to sell music, but also to update people with info on what they should be doing and how they should do it. Also half of the proceeds from the site go to Money Ray’s 4 children – Money Ray was an original Cold Crush Brother and he passed away almost two years ago. And that’s something I wanted to do personally because me and him came up together, and I brought him into the Cold Crush.
When it came to the 80’s and the 90’s and you all went your separate ways, how did you feel that you could blend in and fit into that time period as a solo artist?
KG: Well basically Hiphop is ME! I am Hiphop. Its like the person who invented the wheel. It don’t matter what year it is… it doesn’t matter what time it is… when it comes to emceeing I’m one of the best at it. Not only did I create it, but I’m still so advanced compared to most emcees today. For real man, sometimes I look in the mirror and I’m shocked and amazed at how fly and lyrical I am at this point in my life. I’m 40 years old, and I’ll smash Jay-Z, I’ll smash anybody.
Woah, that’s a bold statement!
KG: I’M NICE LIKE THAT! And I’m 40! But Jay… Jay’s close to my age anyway – a lotta people don’t know that.
Yeah he’s like 34… 35… right?
KG: Yeah right… try 38 or 39. Jay been around for a minute man – Jay ain’t no youngster. But… I’m just nice on the mic – that’s who I am. I wouldn’t disrespect Jay-Z cos me and Jay are friends… I’m just trying to say that I can hold up with the hottest emcee in the game right now. I’m not gonna disrespect him, cos I’m a respectable brother and that’s why people got a lotta love for me… but he’s one of the hottest cats in the game… and I can hold up with him or any of the others right now. Him, Eminem… I can hold up with them guys. And that’s just because I love what I do – and what I do is Hiphop, and what I AM is Hiphop. See a lot of these guys today are doing it, but they ain’t living it. Eminem is. Jay-Z is. Eminem and Jay-Z are Hiphop. They ain’t just doing it to make money – I mean, I know they ARE making money, but that’s not their reason for making Hiphop music. As far as me making the change for the 90’s… it was easy! It was like going to buy a new car – its still a car… its just a newer one. Its just based on flows and knowing how to create. One of my titles with Cold Crush was the Tune Creator because I was creating tunes and melodies and flows. That was my thing.
Now, Grandmaster Caz left and you put out “Troopers” without him. How do you think that album and Cold Crush as a group would have done going up against the Public Enemy’s and the BDP’s of that time?
KG: To be honest, there was always a place for Cold Crush. Cold Crush has always been unique for our style of rhyming. I mean, today you got Jurassic 5 who mimics us very well… and I love them kids, I gotta lot of love for what they doing. But when we broke up, and everyone went their separate ways, me and Tony Tone decided to stay closer and ran together to do the album. “Troopers” wasn’t even meant to be a Cold Crush record at the time, but Tony invented the name, and he was with me, so he was like “Yo lets just put the Cold Crush name on it.” There was me, Tony, and this other cat on the cover called Henry who was called Smurf Twin, and he was a member of the Cold Crush too. So we just threw it up there. Back then if we was still together when Public Enemy and them cats was rising up, they couldn’t really hang with us lyrically or in stage performances… Everything they learned, they learned from us. We didn’t give ALL our secrets out, you understand? We were like Chinese martial artists… we gonna teach you, but we ain’t gonna give all our secrets away. We gonna keep something back, and we ain’t gonna teach you that, so that if we have to use that, we pull it out as a secret weapon!
How did you feel through the 90’s… despite the fact that y’all were putting out little bits and pieces… that Cold Crush were largely ignored until Terminator X came back and asked you to jump on his second album?
KG: For us it was… we didn’t really feel that people forgot about us, you know? It was more like an evolution… I mean, today you got people who watched Julius Erving play, and you got younger cats who don’t even know who Julius Erving is! They know who Jordan is right now, and they’re gonna be looking funny at the youngsters of 10 and 15 years time who don’t know who Jordan is! Believe it or not – the greatest player who ever played, and people aren’t gonna know about him! So the legacy is more important that what people remember today… it takes time and years and knowledge to understand that. Especially because today everyone is so fickle, and one-minded, and want to get rich today, and don’t want to work to get rich, but just want the thing to fall into their lap.
But didn’t you get a little pissed off that the likes of Cold Crush and Bam and Kool Herc that put in all that work to get Hiphop underway seemed to be left behind by the artists you passed the torch to? Like “Damn, look how much money they’re making, and the profile they have, and not once have they came back for us.”
KG: Well I can only answer this from my personal point of view. I mean, I’m sure there are some of the older dudes who do feel like that, but I can only answer from Kay Gee’s point of view. It never bothered me because of a few things… one – I was raised right. I had good parents that raised me right. I never had or never wanted a free ride on anything – only what earned and what I felt I deserved. The time was right for me to do what I did, and if the time wasn’t right, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now having the conversation, you know? I’m not gonna get pissed at another man for having success, because deep down, that other man’s success off something that you helped create is really your success. Everything has its moment in time. I mean, don’t get it misconstrued – we did make a lot of money as Cold Crush – we did well for the time that we did what we was doing… we did very well. Now whether or not we could have done more – that’s all up for debate now because we don’t know. We never had a platinum album, never did a lot of cds… but I feel that if we came out and did something now it WOULD blow up… because we’re like the Rolling Stones of Hiphop. So if we did one right now, it’d blow off the chain. But the fact is, I never got mad at none of the new cats because they’re all my children – I birthed them. And you can’t get mad at your kids! I’ve created more black millionaires than ever before in history and that’s how I leave it. That’s what very important in the movement for black people – I’ve done my job. If you have hate for someone just because they achieve something then you’re hindering yourself from achieving things because you can’t move forward under those condition. So for me, I’m very proud of all my brothers and sisters that are doing Hiphop, R’n’B, Reggae, Rock… you can’t do none of those without Hiphop now. Its SO mainstream now. You need it to sell stuff now – you can’t sell anything without Hiphop behind it or the kids won’t look at it. When I look at it like that, you gotta love it. Some cats I’m quite sure are bitter, because this is a 1.5 billion dollar industry, and none of these old school cats are millionaires. Not one. But there’s other things that’s more important than money, and if you base your life around money, then you already lose before you get started.
Keeping that thought in mind and focusing on Hiphop in general… it seems that a lot of artists come out on the back of a hot single and rush an album into the stores with that single surrounded by 13 or 14 filler cuts… it seems that these people are just trying to get their little piece of money while they can…
KG: Well right now, Hiphop is at a very interesting point in life. There’s a lot of good talent out there… but there’s a lot of wack talent there too – some real nasty disgusting stuff that shouldn’t even be on wax. I mean, who gave this fool money to make this? There’s a ton of stuff that’s good and a ton of stuff that’s terrible… and the reason for this is that the labels are more interested in finding cats they can rob instead of finding cats that’s good… and as long as you have that you’re always gonna have wack emcees. The other thing to remember is that this is an everybody game nowadays… everybody thinks they can do this nowadays because everybody else is doing it… its common now. When we was doing it it wasn’t common – this was like trying to Michael Jordan. At that time only Michael was doing it… nowadays you got Kobe, McGrady… all doing it. And its the same with us – we invented a lot of different styles, lot of different flows, and stage presence… like “Say Ho!”… we invented that… “all the ladies in the house say ho… say ah… now scream!”… we invented all that.
Going back to when Cold Crush was battling The Furious Five… how do you feel when you see how these cats are doing it now? How does it compare?
KG: Well when we battled back in the days… we put the blueprint down. When you battled someone it was because somebody think they better than you… so you get on stage – you do you, I do me… and even before emcees was battling, DJs were battling. DJs would battle each other and whoever win would take their system… DJs would battle for systems. In turn, that went to the mic, and emcees would battle… we could battle for some money or something, a thousand dollars… however much someone would put up to see the battle go down. But after the battle, you didn’t shoot a dude… we went out and played basketball the next day!
So the whole essence of battling – according to Kay Gee… your definition – 2 mics, an instrumental, 2 guys on the stage right?
Coming off the top of the head?
KG: No way. You had to write your rhymes… written rhymes. Ain’t no top of the dome stuff – you come off the top of the dome on stage with us and we will kill you! We’ll eat you alive – you’ll get disrespected… discombobulated… if you came on the stage freestying against us… cos sooner or later you’re gonna start getting generic and we gonna chew you alive. As far as today, I think they tried to keep the battle thing going and I don’t think they did a bad job. But it all boils down to the industry that we living and working in, because they are the real true people who make the calls as to what track goes on what and how. We got a lot of this to blame on the industry itself. For one, how many times you been to a record label and you got this idiot working as the A&R? Every company has them… they don’t know anything and they’re hooking up their best man from around the block cos they get a piece of the pie when it go down. You know how it go… you get 50 grand to do an album from an independent, you gotta hit your man off 10 grand and go from there. So a lotta cats was doing that… they were in a position to get talent, and they were bringing people they know, friends of a friend… and on the low they’d have an agreement with the artist saying “When you get this, you gotta give me this.” You know? So they hook the deal up and before you know it some wack ass emcee got a deal versus somebody who’s really good. Cos if the person who’s really good knows their business too, they ain’t cutting you the side deal. This is your job! You get paid to find people like me! But no, the A&R’s wanna get paid for finding you AND get a cut of whatever you make on the low. So they got smart and brought in a lot of bums… and before you know it, bums is running the industry. See, this is how the industry works. If you got a record out, and the radio station is playing your joint every day… they beating it into people’s heads until they like it. They play certain joints… if Jay come out or Eminem come out with something new… they’ll pay for it. Payola is still in effect. If you got the money… I’ll get somebody wack as fuck, and go to Hot 97 with the record and a half a million dollars, and tell em “Here’s half a mil, I want you to play this like you never played nothing before in your life”, you think they ain’t gonna play it? They gonna play it like they on crack. Money talks, and bullshit walks.
Getting back to the battling issue… when do you feel that the whole shift started from Cold Crush to BDP vs Shan etc where it was “I’m nicer than you, I’m a better emcee”, to today’s cats who are talking about “I’m fucking your woman, I’ll shoot you in the face?”
KG: Well you gotta look at the times. You got a lot of kids today looking at TV and they see and hear words on the television that we never heard or saw… like ‘ass’ and ‘bitch’… in a minute you gonna hear em say ‘fuck’… just coming right out and saying it. I’ve already seen the commercials where some chick is talking about some jeep being ‘effing nice.’ What the hell is that? Its just a way to get around the censorship issues… and those censorship barriers are always being moved. People took it out of context – the battle should stay on the stage behind the mic, and it should never have progressed to guns and clapping and all this stupid stuff people is talking about today. This is an art, an artform… that should be expressed to heal the world, not hurt the world.
Do you share the view that all this can be traced back to NWA coming out? The ‘bitch’ and ‘motherfucker’ and ‘nigga’ shit… they broke through the barrier of saying that on wax, and once they took the flak for that, everyone else was able to do that almost free from any criticism.
KG: Yeah definitely. It was already being done, but not to that degree. In a sense, what happened was that on wax, NWA opened Pandora’s Box, and there was no turning back for those that want to do that style of rap – that door is now blew wide open. You have so many people in the world who are so negative, and grow up negative… that’s something that they can understand, something that they feel they need to say… and really they ain’t saying nothing. Most people don’t understand what’s going on in the real world, because they aren’t educated and don’t know what time it is.
Lets talk a little about some old war stories back in the day… what’s the craziest, hypest show you ever did?
KG: Wow, there’s a lot to choose from! Harlem World is up there. The battle with us and Fantastic Five is up there. Its one of the greatest battles in Hiphop. Doing the Jimi Hendrix thing at the museum in Seattle. And also our last performance with Money Ray. Another time is when we went to Japan… we were the first rap group to go to Japan…we got there, and there were thousands of people there to greet us and we tore this place down. I woulda been around 17, so this was around 1981. Another one was in Summer’s Armoury in Brooklyn… Brookyln and Bronx was tough areas, and there around 2000 people there. It was packed with the most rowdiest people you could find, but when we performed everything stopped! We had real good love from Brooklyn. Whatever everybody was into, they stopped and they were entertained by Cold Crush, and we gave em a great show. You had all the thugs there, and after we finished, Fantastic got on and a riot broke out… so that right there, shows you who they came to see.
Tell me a little more about Fantastic … what led up to it, and what the background was on the battle.
KG: Well Fantastic was our rivals. They were the dudes to beat to rule the street. They had got their group together about a year to a year and half before we did, so they already had the recognition. Plus they was like the little cute boys so all the girls loved that… you know, always dressed nice, always had the fly shit. Then, here we come, and we’re the underdogs, but we just know we’re better. And we always threw parties on the same nights… we had our crowds, they had theirs… we’d send our little spy to their spot, and they’re send the spy to us to see how packed the spots was. After a while, we started taking more of their people and they realised that they had to battle us to take back the street. I mean it never got to the point where it was fists or nothing… no weapons or none of that, just a little trash talk.
You’ve been working on and off in the studio producing stuff…
KG: Yeah I did a score for ‘The Disappearing Act” and I worked on the first Spooks album. Right now I just finished my compilation cd – I have Kool Keith, KRS, Cold Crush Brothers and Supernat on there. Its called “Supernova: Proclamation 1.” I also have a solo album called “The Big Bang Theory” where I’m gonna bring it back to the essence… Hiphop using instruments from all over the world. The thought behind it is that this is the beginning… this is how Hiphop SHOULD sound like today – not this garbage that people are hearing.
What artists are you listening to right now?
KG: Well I’d be better to give you a list of artists that I do like, and we’ll call the rest wack – that’d be easy. I like Jay – I think Jay-Z picked it up a little bit and he ain’t rapping about the same stuff that he used to. I like how he matured in a way that most artists hopefully will go, and became the businessman. Then I got Missy Elliott, Ludacris, Nelly…. Black Eyed Peas. I like BEP because they give another element and show you that you can do something different and still be successful, without all that negativity. I like Outkast, the Roots, Jurassic…
How about Lil Jon?
KG: I think Lil Jon is like a little cartoon character. He’s not a good emcee… he reminds me of Busy Bee, except Busy could emcee too… nah scratch that, I couldn’t put him with Busy Bee. He’s more like an Ol’ Dirty or a Flavor Flav type of guy… just a character. And my advice to him is just to cash in while he can cos after a while his whole little “Yeaaaaaah” thing is gonna get played out. Ain’t nobody gonna be saying that in 10 years, or 5 years, or even next year!
I think today more than ever, Hiphop careers have no longevity or no legacy. If you take it back to say Kane or Rakim you can see what an impact that they had on the progression of Hiphop – they’re historical figures in the music, and their songs still can be repeated word for word by a gang of fans old and new. Compare that with today, where you have the Neptunes who couldn’t put a foot wrong last year, and this year they’ve attracted criticism with every new song and beat…
KG: Yup, they ain’t hot no more! See nowadays people make their loot and bow out gracefully. The great thing about me, is that I’m the type of guy who knows how to reinvent themself over and over again. And that’s what you need in today’s world – a plan. If you don’t have a plan and a way to recreate and reinvent yourself, then you’re finished!
But how is Kay Gee gonna pull that off, when those same cats – Rakim and Kane – have struggled with that whole reinvention phase? PE are still putting out music but a lot of people unfortunately don’t see them as relevant. KRS is still putting out music but a lot of people unfortunately don’t seem as relevant any more…
KG: Well first of all you gotta find your niche. Also I’m coming from the emcee / producer perspective – I’m doing both. I’m not just an emcee sitting there waiting for someone to make a beat for me… I’ll make my own beat. I can go musically or lyrically, and I make sure that my stuff is better than anyone else’s stuff. Plus, you gotta know your fans – when you get to a certain level of fans, you realise that they’re gonna buy your stuff regardless. People are gonna buy my stuff regardless – although I don’t get lazy, I always make myself do good things. Its an interesting thing… right now my new name is Almighty Kay Gee Supernova – that’s my new title. My company is Killer Groove Inc. So there’s different things you gotta do to reinvent yourself. Of course the big thing is making the hit – once you make the hit and everybody bumping it in the streets, then they gotta love you. Also, it ain’t easy to get back – you have a lot of cats from back in the day that don’t know how to get back in the right circuit. I thought Ra was gonna do well coming back with Dre, but that didn’t quite work out.
So what’s in the immediate future for Kay Gee?
KG: Well I’m gonna continue to work on my music, and keep pushing towards dropping this compilation. I’m always willing to work with talented cats, and network with heads. As well as that, the hiporhop.com site will continue to grow, and I’m gonna continue to push that to teach the people who are interested in the origins of this music.
Thanks to Kay Gee for taking part . Check his site www.hiporhop.com now!