INTERVIEW: Kendo Taf (Hyenas In The Desert)

Kendo - Hyenas In The Desert

I haven’t personally transcribed an interview in a few years. Since I focused more on doing interviews; after running into my dude DJ A To The L last year. I asked him if he’d be interested in posting old interviews that never got published with publications I was working with. He said for sure! Thanks for having me back on board my friend. This interview with Kendo Taf of Hyenas In the Desert was conducted in 2013 or 2014. I was always intrigued by the group since I saw their ad in The Source back in 1997 or 1998. That crazy cover with the hockey masks in the woods. Here is the full interview we did.

What are you working on now?

Kendo: I’m doing a project for WWE. Which is when you see these guys walk down the runway. A few of the records I wrote. Sometimes it’s theme music. WWE had me present them theme music. Or I’ll do one offs on the WWE album that they put out. The connect goes back to when we were on Columbia records. The head of the media division Neil Lowery He was a good dude; a good friend of mine. Whenever I came out of the elevator I would see dude and we would politic right there. We developed this rapport. It took it even further and got my group Hyenas In The Desert and got us into Rolling Stone. With three and a half of four stars and whatnot. I thought that was incredible and our friendship has continued to grow. I was traveling around the world and I lost touch with him for about two years. One day I was talking with Gary “G-Wiz” and he was like “I want you to write something for WWE”. I didn’t know they had outside independent artist write for them. Gary took me to WWE and introduced me to Neil. He didn’t know Neil was my boy from back in the day. He told me some of these new wrestlers need them music and I just got to work.

How did you first get into rhyming and emceeing?

K: It’s a funny story. When I was about 14 years old I was getting in trouble. I was doing all the stuff that kids did. But I went a little further. I was out in the streets hustling, fighting, carrying a pistol. I was just like a mess. My uncle came home from the army. He was in Korea. When he came home; I wasn’t listening to my grandmother. So he kind of locked me in the house. I started going through his stuff. I came across this book and I opened it up. There was rhymes. The first or the second page it was DMC’s rhymes to Sucker MCs. I read it memorized it. I recited it at a party. People like it. This can make my popularity go even more further. Plus it was cool. Run DMC was the biggest act at the time. If you ask me how I got into music? I would say my uncle. Him having his little rap books and DMC’s first verse from Sucker MCs.

Who are some of your influences as an emcee?

K: Chuck D of Public Enemy is number one influence to me man. Rakim, Run DMC and LL Cool J. The reason I say LL Cool J. When everybody was talking this hardcore shit. He was running around talking about girls. What we were really thinking about as men or as boys or whatever. Everybody else is too hard to talk about that. I commend him for that. He stuck by his guns and was real successful for him. When you want to talk about other artists. I say Rakim because he was the one. You never really saw him very much. He had this aura about him. This guy is a God. If you look at the lyrics to Follow The Leader are still relevant today in 2013, 2014. Its crazy! I knew this guy was important. Then you got Chuck D. I watched Public Enemy. They have a cause. They stuck to their guns and their plan. They always give you show. When you go to a PE show. It’s always theatrical. It was amazing to me. Then you got Run DMC. Who took the rock and roll and fused it with hip hop. Kind of branded their own lane. When you brand your own lane. You don’t have to follow anybody. They’ll follow you. I took all of those elements and put them into Hyenas. It worked out pretty well. The album sales did well. From the Hyenas I created another situation called Kendo Taf. It’s the same brand as Hyenas but a more modern day thing. Those are the influences: LL, Run DMC, Rakim, and Public Enemy.

How’s your writing process as an emcee?

K: For me I mostly write about shit that really happened to me. I try and put it in a way. That I can display it; where you can close your eyes and see it. I hear a song before I even do it. I keep a writing pad. By the side of my bed. In the middle of the night I wake up; write something and go back to sleep. In the morning going back and looking at what I wrote. Most of the time it triggers a thought and then it triggers a video. Then it triggers the whole song. Then I can see the whole thing before its done. When it comes to me creating music. I can see it before it’s done. It might just be the hook. If the hook is dope. I can find the beat or I can produce the beat also.

How did you hook up with Chuck D for his song Pain off of Autobiography of Mista Chuck?

K: When I met G Wiz. I met Chuck D maybe two months after meeting G Wiz. Chuck took a liking to me. He told me one day I really respect what you’re doing. As a young man I’m watching you grow. He told me he had a few records coming up that he’d like me to get on. I was honored when he said that. Because this is Chuck D. This just came from a connection with Gary “G Wiz” the platinum producer. He wanted to take it further. That was when we created Hyenas In The Desert. Chuck came on board. That he liked the situation. When you spark the interest of a big artist like that. You’re doing something right. He put me on the record. He told me I had to get on the record. I’m so honored for that for the rest of my life.

How was the studio session?

K: It was easy. It wasn’t complicated. The rapport between me and him became really cool. I got to know the whole camp. The studio session was really easy. When I went in I was concerned about the other artist on the record. Because everybody else has been out there and got gold and platinum records. So I was the new and unknown from Long Island on this record. I remember I took the first pass on it. Chuck was outside the booth by the boards. He stopped and came in and turned the mic off. He pointed to me and said “hey listen. Just do what you do! Don’t try to be fancy. Don’t try to finagle it. Just do what do you do”. The reason you’re here is because I like what you do. I took a deep breath. Yo Will(speaking to me). I went in and I murdered it! Like it was so easy. He had to tell me relax. Because I was so hype. He told me to be myself. Because that’ll stand out enough.

How did you meet G Wiz?

K: That’s another crazy story. G Wiz came about. When I was at home playing Madden; a friend of mine said he gave my CD to this girl at the hospital. Because he was an orderly at the hospital; he said he spoke to her and come to find out. She’s a music manager. Just so happen that was Garland who was G Wiz’s sister. She was the head of Eastlink. The management company. Garland took the CD to Gary and played it for him. He was like who the hell is this? It was stuff I made in the basement. On a HR16 drum machine, a tape deck, and a mic connected to the speaker. My own shit from the basement that I put together. I thought he wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t top quality. But he actually said that was some of the best stuff. He brought me down to the studio. He had an adjacent room to the studio. Like a green room. He told me he wanted to work on some material with me. When we tried it out. That Concubinez song came. It was so left field. I was like Oh my God this is dope! He was like from now on. When we’re working together. All you got to worry about is the rhymes. Don’t worry about nothing else. That’s how that chemistry came about. We just started working from there.

How did you get your deal with Slam Jamz/Columbia?

K: We created this image with the masks. A lot of people don’t know about that. We’ll get into that later on in the interview. I started doing these open showcases for different record labels. It was a bidding war in the beginning between Atlantic and Columbia records. I did a showcase and it was really dope. It got a lot of attention and a lot of people were there. What had happened there was cat from Columbia that approached G Wiz and Chuck. After the showcase. He said he really enjoyed the performance. Asking if I was signed to anybody. They said they were working on it right now. There was another cat from Atlantic and he was telling them. That kid has longevity and a great career ahead of him. We need to talk. I remember Chuck saying “alright we’ll talk about it”. The guy from Columbia happened to just stick around and kept beating on Chuck and G Wiz. Next thing you know the lawyers call Gary this other company is offering this situation. But Columbia is offering a better situation. They’re offering a whole label situation. Next thing you know Gary takes me to the lawyer. I look over the contract and it was really impressive. It wasn’t no ten album deal or a trap. It was genuine a balance. Of what I can receive; what I can receive in the future. It was a good situation. I turned to Chuck and I turned to Gary. I told them I Thanked them. They were like listen we all got here together. Thank yourself. You’re a big part of this too. Right there on the spot I inked the deal.

How was the production process on the “Die Laughing” EP?

K: I give Gary a lot of credit for that. If it wasn’t for G Wiz you wouldn’t have that sound. That melodic, gray, no sun outside; You won’t have that sound. That sound is original. That sound is deep and underground. It was ahead of its time. You have people trying to create that sound now! When he did that sound in 1996, 1997; when everybody was talking about Versace this; Versace that. We’re so underground with this melodic sound. That people weren’t ready for that. It was too much. The same way I look at the Rakim lyrics. Like the Concubinez record you can play that today. It falls into date. Sometimes great things are before their time. We all got to grab those great things and hold on to them. Through out the years it’ll just get more valuable. You’ll be impressed when you put it up against something in modern times.

How did the name of the group come about and the horrorcore look?

K: I had a cousin that was locked up. We used to write each other a lot. In his writings he told me he had a click called “The Hyenas”. He was a bad dude too. His click The Hyenas were a problem in the jail. He was like you’re one of use. Me personally I was trying to push away from that side of life. But I needed something that would stand out. I needed something that was different from the fancy clothes and everything. Because I’m not about that; I’m about this new fusion. This grunge; I love this kind of stuff. Hyenas is a dope name. What about Hyenas in the Desert? He said that’s crazy! I’m run with that; because I’m ready to work this situation out between Atlantic and Columbia. I don’t know which way I’m go. But that’s the name I’m using. He said go run with it. We created a few of the things that go along with it. The masks , the outfits, and everything. It was just a combination of great things we thought about to make us stand out. I thought about the Public Enemy situation. Where you always see the militant; you got to look at it like that. I had a lot of issues growing up. How bad it was. It darkened me. Like I don’t want to be around nobody; when I did the mask it made me feel I was hiding. But I can still speak. It took a life of it’s own. It became the insignia when you see me. That’s what you see. This dangerous dude but he changed his ways. That mask let you know there’s a darkside to this dude.

How did the idea of the cover of the album in the wooded area come about?

K: The mask was already there. I wanted something that would be legendary. Something that would go down in history as a great album cover; which I told to Chuck and G Wiz. I never wanted the car, the girls, the drugs, and the money. I never wanted that. I wanted it to be poster on somebody’s wall. We’re going to darken everything. We’re going to turn everything like if it’s an elephant graveyard. You don’t even want to go there. If you look at the cover it’s really dark and gray. Its four motherfuckers on the cover if you go over there. Where they are you’ll get your ass tore up! I liked that. I wanted that dangerous looking cover. That legendary, timeless cover.

Now we’re going talk about the breakdown of the songs. Starting with “Elephant Graveyard”?

K: It was late. I think that was the last record we recorded. I was eating Chinese food in the corner. Chillin. We’re listening to beats. We got Funkmaster Flex killing it on the radio. It was one of those things in the studio. That we had time. The track was really dope. Gary he’s like Dexter in the laboratory. He’s in the corner working on something. Everytime he hits play on the MPC. I’m hearing this dope ass track. What is that? He responds Something I’m working on. I go back to eating. Then I tell him I don’t know what that is right there. But I got to have that. It made my eyebrows raise. Gary said You got something for it. I told him I’m create something on the spot. He played that track for 10 minutes. I came up with the whole record right there.

“Can You Feel It”?

K: I needed something that could compete with the Biggie records, Jay Z records that were out at the time. I needed something that can compete in your car. It’s not a dance track. But it’s banging like one that you can put in the car and ride to. It’s a banger the bass is in it. The verses is right. The crazy thing is I got a lot of praise from M.O.P behind that. Because when they first met me. We all shared the tour bus. When they first met me the first thing they said was “You did that track Can You Feel It”? and said Yeah. They said it was a dope record. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish with that track. Because I wanted them to hear it; not exactly MOP. That kind of vibe. We’re not dancing but we need something that can play in the car. When I got that proof from MOP I knew I did something right.

“Wild Dogs”

K: I ran into Funkmaster Flex at the Greek fest. It was Hyenas in the Desert and 112 at the Greek fest. Flex was backstage and was telling me he loved the mask. That I looked dangerous; he told me he needed something he could play on the radio. I said let me make something a little bit more uptempo. Maybe 97 98 beats per minute. Something real dope like some Mobb Deep Quiet Storm; like Wu Tang’s Protect Your Neck something like that. That’s what we did. We did Wild Dogs. It’s a Long Island anthem. I needed something for the wild kids in Long Island to get into. There was no record at the time for the people of Long Island. I made it specifically for Funkmaster Flex. One time I’m at my house at twelve o’clock at night. I can hear Funkmaster Flex screaming this is Hyenas in the Desert Wild Dogs and cutting back and forth. I flipped out! I ran back in the house. Told everybody that Flex was killing it! Three days later for new years Flex is playing his favorite records of the year. I’m playing Resident Evil. He played the intro to Can You Feel It. Then flipped the record over. I can hear the Hyenas laughing and it’s Wild Dogs. Two weeks later. I was on Hot 97 killing on the radio with Flex, Chuck D, and PMD.

“The Longest Night (Journal #1)”

K: That was an experience I put into a record. But I didn’t have time. Because I was pressed for time; that journal was explaining how I ran into a situation out in Long Island in Levittown. My car had broken down out there. It was crazy when I was trying to get help and people were passing by. Nobody was trying to help me. It was at night. When the police showed up it was more or less. What are you doing around here? I’m looking at the cop what the fuck do you mean what I’m doing around here? I’m human what are you talking about? He was like you shouldn’t be around here at this time of night. That was a wild situation.


K: I was in love with the track. That’s why I named it that (laughs). I was in the car with my girl one time and I was playing the track that G Wiz had given me. She said you love that shit so much. That’s like your girl. That was the explanation. The business card. This is who were are. This is what I do. This is to help people like you understand what the mask is about. The video was left field. Chuck was like you need something different. Something dangerous. If you look at the video. People have used the ideas over the years.

“Why Me?”

K: It was talking about when I was younger. I put my man Lord Rashawn on there. Because we used to run together. That was a non-fiction record. From start to finish. I remember when I was 15. This kid in the park took my stopwatch. When everybody was rocking stopwatches. My cousin made me go back and get it. The guy punched me in the face. He was like 23, 24. I jumped back and we started fighting. He swung and missed. I swung and broke his jaw. I hit him again and broke it on the other side. I was shocked. I went in and I got him. That’s reality.

“Hyenas In The Desert”

K: I needed something for regular airplay. At the time some stations were just getting into hip hop and they were playing uptempo records. We designed that record to be uptempo. So that it can be played in the club. That’s how we accomplished that.

“Other Side of Midnight”

K: It’s one of those ear candy songs. It doesn’t have a meaning or definition to it. You just know it’s a dope ass beat and you better spit something real fire to it. If G Wiz and Chuck weren’t as firm as they were. I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now.

Why was there never a full length album after the EP?

K: Because Columbia had a problem with Slam Jamz. They parted ways and in the midst of that. All the artists got caught up. After the house burned down you have to find your own way. Chuck still had me on road with him traveling all over the world. For a minute the political problems took over and we weren’t being allowed to do certain things.

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