The scripts i run to harvest the news for wuforever.com... i ran across this website (ohword.com) and today they had this:
Time Travelin' with the Genius
posted on Sep 19, 2005
by Kevin Beacham
split in pages
In this previously unpublished interview from 2002, the Genius sat down with Kevin Beacham to discuss the path to Wu-Tang and the origins of a great MC.
Illustrations by agent b.
Click for full image
In this previously unpublished interview from 2002, the Genius sat down with Kevin Beacham to discuss the path to Wu-Tang and the origins of a great MC. Illustrations by agent b.
What’s your earliest hip-hop memory?
I guess it goes way back to when I was child attending the block parties. At that time a few brothers used to get on the mic. Ever since I saw a brother rock the mic, that was it.
Around what year was this?
This is in ’76, ’77. When I started rhyming there were probably only two MCs in that whole borough of Shaolin [Staten Island]. That was way back. I was doing it before it even hit wax, before “Rapper’s Delight” and all that.
Since you had such an early start, who would you consider your influences and inspirations?
There were many in a sense, many different MCs – known and unknown – that kind of inspired a brother. I used to travel from Shaolin to the South Bronx and at that time Shaolin was kind of behind compared to the Bronx. It was fascinating to see how many live MCs existed out there. At the same time we still had brothers making records. You had the Treacherous 3, Cold Crush Brothers, Fearless 4. I used to like Spoonie G. I grew up listening to a lot of those tapes that were made in Harlem World and those places where they would battle and they inspired me a lot.
Anyone particular from your neighborhood that was inspirational?
Back in Shaolin we had a brother called Punch and he was nice. There was another brother named Stevie Steve. Like I said, there were only two or three [MCs] out there and those were the two before I came along and started doing my thing. In the Bronx, a lot of MCs I didn’t even know their names. There were so many that would get on the mic and they were so dope and their style was like… it was a mass of them. It was like Wu-Tang at that time out there.
Being based in Shaolin you pretty much got started on that scene around the same time as Force MCs [later called Force MDs].
Yeah, actually they formed their thing just a couple of years after I started rhyming. Mercury used to live on my floor. He passed away a couple of years ago. I was like 11 or 12 around the time I started rhyming. I don’t even know if he was rhyming at that time. He may have started a year or two afterwards. It was definitely in that era that the Force started popping their thing off. I had moved from Shaolin by then and I remember seeing them on the boat all the time. The [Staten Island] ferry was a place of talent. You’d see all types of things on the ferry – all types of things in New York, period. We used to take the ferry boat from Staten Island to Manhattan. They would perform on the boat all time and make lots of money. The Force used to get busy ‘cause they would do all these routines from Frank Sinatra to the Jacksons and be killing it. They were doing their thing for a while.
Actually, there’s a Force MCs routine that I’m trying to find. I used to have it on tape in the early 80s. It was this routine to the Rocky Theme.
It was them? I remember another group from the Bronx. I had a tape and they were doing some routine off the same “Eye of the Tiger” flow and they were doing it off the “Love Rap” beat.
I’m pretty sure it was them because it was about their DJ, Dr. Rock.
He passed away too.
They had so many tragedies in that group.
Yeah, like three of them brothers returned [to the essence]. Dr. Rock used to get busy back then. They had so many routines. They were able to sing ‘cause they had good voices and they mixed it with hip-hop. ‘Cause Cold Crush was tearing it down with those routines back then. Cold Crush used to take certain songs from the 60s, a lot of pop and rock songs that some brothers had never heard before and they put them in routines. Like they had [harmonizing] “Fifty ways to rock a party, turn up the bass, Chase.” They was hurting it. Then the Force came through with the real singing voices and the routines. I don’t know if you ever heard that battle between the Force MDs and the Cold Crush Brothers. That was in ‘83.
Besides MCing were you ever involved in any other elements of hip-hop?
I used to break around the same time. Before it became breakdancing it was just called breakin’, before they started spinning on the head and spinning the back. It was more of an uprock thing and little bit of floor stuff. I was involved in that at the time I started rhyming ‘cause those things were connected.
Like I was saying, Staten Island was behind so when I would travel to the Bronx to visit my family up there… I had cousins and they had stopped breakin’! It was over for them, it was a wrap! I was asking them certain things about breakin’, “How do you do this, how do you do a sweep?” and they were like, “We don’t break no more,” and it was just starting to pop off in Staten Island! Matter of fact, we had a brother who was from the Bronx who came to stay in Shaolin at the time and he was incredible! He just ruled the Island. What he was doing was probably normal up there the South Bronx, but he came to Shaolin and he gained so much recognition so fast through the whole borough just on his breaking skills.
I used to do graffiti. I never tagged on walls with spray paint and all that, but I would do graffiti of my name. I can draw a little, I can sketch. On “I Ain’t No Joke” where Rakim said, “I wrote a rhyme in graffiti’n…” Sometimes lyricists connect with other lyricists… I don’t know how serious people took that but when he said that, I said, “Ohh,” ‘cause I wrote a rhyme in graffiti! I was probably about 16, I had this verse that I thought was so incredible that I wrote it in graffiti. I wanted to see it like that on paper in bold letters! When Rakim said that I was like, “Oh!” and I’m hearing it years later and some stuff he said I didn’t catch ‘til years [after that]...
I was never good at was scratching and DJing. I could probably throw a scratch here and there, but I was never real nice like that, like RZA and Dirty. RZA was ill on the turntables and Dirty was nice.
One thing that was always confusing to me was where you are from. Ads for your first album had you listed as the ‘Brooklyn freestyle champion.’ Then with the Wu it was all about Shaolin. Plus you talk about the Bronx a lot – so many boroughs are associated with your name.
Yeah, I lived in every borough. I was born in Brooklyn. I moved to Shaolin at the age of 9 or 10. That’s the home of hip-hop for me, where I started to pick up this lyrical talent. I would travel via public transportation at a young age to the Bronx from Staten Island. Taking the ferry and jumping on a train and then jumping on the bus. Sometimes RZA would make the journey with me. I would travel all over. I had family in Queens. I kind of adopted different styles and different hooks. Back then, [something like] “Yes, yes y’all,” was a hook because every MC used it before he jumped into his verse so we would incorporate things that certain neighborhoods would say. I incorporated many different styles and as the years went on I just kind of developed my own rap ability. I left from Shaolin and moved back to Brooklyn and around that time was when we formulated the All In Together Now crew.
Actually, that was my next question, so speak about that crew.
It was myself, Dirty, and RZA. It was sparked. We had this routine, you probably heard Dirty use it on a song or two, where we’d say, “All, all, all in together now, we getting paid, getting fresh for the weather now.” That routine was [something] that myself and Dirty used to do. He was a human beat box and I was Genius at the time. It was more of a “Ladi Dadi” type thing. That tape was kinda famous. We did that demo in ‘83 or ’84. I got on Cold Chillin’ in ’90 and one day Biz Mark was like, “You’re the Genius – All In Together Now!?” It was crazy… [Back in ‘83-’84] I was staying in Brooklyn and Unique, that was Dirty, was staying in Brooklyn. RZA was still in Shaolin. Dirty would come through my lab and we would hook up and RZA would come through on the weekend. My lab was the meeting place. This is around ’81 to ’84. We would make up these routines. I lived for it; I still do. I was constantly writing, constantly making up stuff. Sometimes Dirty would come over and I’d have the routine made, his part and my part. I used to write beats for him. I never did the beat box, but I used to write beats for him to do and then hum them to him when he’d come over. He was so nice with the beat box that he would be able to duplicate this beat. We had a bugged out way of communicating.
We would make these routines and we would travel all through the borough. I lived in Bed-Stuy at the time and O.D.B was in East New York. We would travel to Bushwick, which wasn’t too far. We would travel to Brownsville, travel all over looking for the dopest MC to battle. You would hear about MCs through word of mouth. Sort of like the kung fu flicks where you would travel looking for the best and you would challenge them. Friendly challenges though, nothing crazy, nothing disrespectful, until we battled this crew called the Dismasters – Mike Ski, he’s passed away, and Raven T who just came home from doing a lot of years. I think he got framed for something. But they were called the Dismasters and I guess they lived up to their name. Mike lived around the corner from me. We ran into each other one day, this was probably about ‘83. He was like, “You rhyme?” and I was like, “Yeah, I rhyme.” He kicked a thought and I kicked a thought. It was cool and the word got back and when I ran into his brother I was like, “[Mike Ski] ain’t as nice as me. He can’t walk in my shoes.” I was just throwing it like that. It got back to him and he took it real personal and he wanted to call a battle so we had a battle. The lyrics they were coming with were very disrespectful and we never rhymed like that. It almost- it got into a fight. It was crazy. Ever since that moment we started writing those kinds of rhymes just to have.
“We would travel to Brownsville, travel all over looking for the dopest MC to battle.”
Click for full image
Any other known MCs that you battled back then?
Captain G Whiz from the Mighty Mic Masters had this strong voice like Grandmaster Caz. I was looking for him for a while. I battled him, actually on his corner in front of like fifty of his cats, and I was just with one other person. He didn’t want to admit to defeat – I damn sure enough wasn’t saying he got me. His crew that was with him, they were on his side but they weren’t openly [saying to me], “Yeah, you can’t hang with him.” Because they even saw it with their own eyes. He was definitely a skillful brother – he had some joints.
One name that comes to mind that you have a loose association with through a common person, Melquan, is Sir Ibu of Divine Force. Since you both were around at that time did you ever work together at all?
That’s my brother right there, I’ve known him for years. Ibu was part of a group – Divine Force – that Melquan was managing. After me and RZA hooked up with Melquan we clicked. We never did any tracks together, but he’s one of the brothers – I respect his talent. “Holy War” was laying it down. I wish the brother could have had a little more success in this game but he definitely had the skills.
One of the first times I saw your name was in The Source and it was listed as a competitor for an upcoming NMS (New Music Seminar) MC battle. This was in the ‘89 seminar I think. Whatever happened with that?
I never entered. I don’t know what happened at that time.
I just remember seeing that lineup of who was supposed to battle.
Wasn’t Lord Finesse supposed to be in that?
Yeah, it was supposed to be, like, you, Finesse, Craig G, Master Ace – all kinds of names that were big around the time or starting to get big.
That’s crazy. I think I had the lyrics that would have done it ‘cause I saw what won. Do you know who won in that year?
Freshco! I would have definitely been victorious in that. Trust me. Not to take from all the artists ‘cause I think some of them even got jerked. I don’t actually remember it to the fullest. I wanted to get up in there, but at the same time I had those butterflies too. I had that for a while growing up. I was always lyrically dope, but I always had this thing in me where I was just nervous to get on the mic – freeze up in front of the crowd. That stuck with me for while so I was always – I’m still in the back, but I was more in the back then. But I was writing dope rhymes for MCs.
I had a brother named Scotty Watt. His name is Jackpot, but his name was Scotty Watt then. Actually, we started rhyming at the same time out in Shaolin – we were in the 6th grade. I taught him, he always gives me credit for that. When I moved from Shaolin in like ‘80, ‘81, ’82, his name was all over that borough. This was before Meth and Rae and them started – Rae and Deck lived there all those years also. They went to the same elementary school I went to. They were just a couple of years younger, but they’ll speak about Jackpot, Scotty Watt. (Editors Note: Finally that RZA lyric from the first Gravediggaz album makes sense! “When Jackpot Watt was hot, I was not” Also, Ghostface on Supreme Clientelle makes the reference “watch me dolly dick it / Scotty Watty cop it to me”) I wish that brother could have had some of this success also. He used to say some of my lyrics. One of his most famous rhymes in Shaolin was my rhyme. I was always in the back like that. Always at the front of the ropes at the block parties watching everybody else rock, but don’t want to get on. Then at one point I didn’t like my voice. I didn’t mature young as far as my voice and going through puberty so when me and Scotty Watt used to make tapes I ain’t never like my voice. His voice was coming through sounding right so I had a little complex and I played the back until it was time for me to step up.
Speaking of stepping up, you made your debut to the world with “Words From A Genius” in ‘91. How did that deal with Cold Chillin’ come about and what happened after that album?
Flash back to Melquan. I ran into Melquan and somehow he became our manager. He put some money up. He put us in the studio – put his money where his mouth was at. Through him I met Easy Moe Bee (producer), who is a brother I’m still cool with this to this day. He’s a good brother and he did a majority of the [“Words From a Genius”] album. Melquan also had some sort of affiliation with Fly Ty (Juice Crew manager/Cold Chillin’ exec). We hit the party scene – stopped paying to get in and all types of things of that nature. We did some demos and he took it to Fly Ty and he wanted to sign it automatically and I was in on Cold Chillin’.
I didn’t know what was really about to happen. I felt good for being there, being with that Juice Crew. I wasn’t a Juice Crew member, but I was on the label and it was a blessing to me. I was just stepping into the game and I didn’t know anything about the industry, the corporate side of it. I knew I had the talent and it wasn’t being exploited right. I was just another artist on a label with a whole bunch of other artists and there was really no room for me there. At the same time I appreciate the fact that I was able to get a deal. I was grateful for all that. A few people heard me – cats in the industry. There’s a few brothers out there who used to listen to me ‘cause lyrically I was still laying it down for that time. One time I ran into Erick and Parish [of EPMD] and this is when they were just doing it and they were like, “You’re the Genius?” and they were respecting my skills so much that I couldn’t believe it. Not saying they were sweating me, they were just quoting lines from the album. But I wasn’t selling a damn thing.
Things didn’t work out and I just became stressed on that label. They were talking about doing another album. Melquan and me started to have differences over where we were going with this. I wasn’t pleased with Cold Chillin’ and I was like, “I don’t care about a deal. I’ll get off this joint.” It was that simple. I went in there one day ‘cause I was fed up. I went in there with this crew that was acting as my management and one of them was like 400 pounds. I was like, “I want my papers.” Ty hesitated – he wasn’t threatened or anything. I’m not saying I went up there and put pressure like that. It was more the fact that he probably saw it in my eyes that…
That you really wanted it to happen.
Yeah. Plus at that time I had a sudden tragedy take place in my family so it was the last straw. They were going to get those papers out, trust me. I just came in with the fire in my eyes like, “You know what? Give me those papers.” They gave ‘em up. Didn’t take no more than ten minutes. Why hold a brother like that? But I went out on the road. I went on the Cold Chillin’ tour and I was grateful for all that. We were getting a $35 dollar per diem and that was adding up. $35 dollars, seven days! It only goes to show you that you can never get too big for something. I remember doing a Wu-Tang show for $200 and that money was good to have – just the fact that we did a show and it was appreciated. I was on the Cold Chillin’ tour and I was getting $35, spending it moderately, and we were performing every night. That was a lot of pressure on me ‘cause I was the first to go out all the time.
Who was on the tour?
It was myself, Kid Capri, Master Ace, Kool G Rap, Grand Daddy I.U… It was like everyone who was damn near on Cold Chillin’ except Kane and Biz. The two top dogs weren’t even dealing with that. We were out on the road, we weren’t really drawing any crowds. We had G Rap with us and he’s a heavyweight, especially at that time. He didn’t have the success that Kane or Biz had at that point but he definitely was equipped with those lyrical skills. He had a couple of videos out and enough songs to be recognized as one of the illest. One time, [Kool G Rap’s DJ] Polo told me, “You don’t know what you’re in for or what’s about to blow.” He probably was just reflecting on what he was going through. I probably couldn’t see it clearly then but he knew automatically I was going to suffer ‘cause I was a new artist coming in.
Everything felt good in the beginning. I went out to Cali for the first time, hooked up with a couple of Warner Brothers people. We talked, kicked it, stayed in a fancy hotel, you know how it is – it was all the first time. I went to the seminar for the first time. I went to Jack the Rapper before my album dropped. I was feeling good. Then we dropped the album and nothing happened. I did a little video – it was all right. That was the “Come Do Me” video. I did 15 songs and that was the last song ‘cause they said, “We need something commercial.” Jesse West had the song. It was different and it was kind of slick to me. RZA was like, “You should use it.” Then I got the rhyme from RZA, switched it around and I did “Come Do Me.” I liked it. I thought it was cool for R&B hip-hop, but I shouldn’t have been coming like that. They had Father MC, who was just ripping it up [with that style]. It wasn’t a big market like is now for that. On Cold Chillin’ it was no room for that. No one even knew I had hard stuff on that album from that.
But that’s the only song on that level from the album.
Yeah! I’m like come on now, but that song was a big song for me. I mean it wasn’t a hit. I’m just saying for me personally that’s the thing people recognized. It’s a catch-22, like it was hurting me but it did good too. That song was known in Florida so every time I went down there I was able to get a show. Being an artist – nowadays artists are put on from other artists so it’s easier to get through like that. You get in your man’s video and everybody see you blow up and they accept you. When I was out on the road with Cold Chillin’… can you imagine coming out in front of 300 people and nobody knows who you are?
One time we got booed off stage. We had like two shows before we went out on that tour. I guess they were warm-up dates. One of them was in Jersey, in Atlantic City, and we got booed. At this time my man Krueger was one of my dancers. I couldn’t even get two dancers! During that period Melquan stressed dancers. I’m not saying that I wasn’t with it, but I wasn’t all for it either. But Kane had Scoob and Scrap, G Rap had his dancers. That was [Cold Chillin’s] thing, but they were so cheap they would only let me bring one dancer out so I only had one side. So I had this one dancer and he started dancing and every time he tried to do something the record would skip. He’d start dancing and boom, the record skipped. Tried to throw another one, [that one skipped too], and then they weren’t feeling us too much. And then O.D.B – who was Unique Ason at the time – started talking crazy stuff to [the crowd]. You know how he talk crazy, he always been like that. “What? I’ll come down there baby and…” Then cops warned us about the profanity. They was booing us and we just left off stage. I didn’t want to show my face that night ‘cause we went to the clubs and after-party. Not realizing that didn’t nobody really pay us no mind ‘cause we wasn’t famous anyway. It was just this bugged out feeling. The Atlantic City show came the night after that and I was totally nervous then but we rocked them. It made a brother feel better.
A lot of the shows were weak. We were getting like 100 people. One place had like 15 people and 8 of them was us. The most crowded one was in Pittsburgh and they wasn’t on no “Come Do Me” stuff. They were more on some Geto Boys, I could tell from the vibe. That was like G Rap’s house. I still held my own. I came out and got lyrical. I learned a lot being on that label – touring, being on the radio. Even though I wasn’t pleased being on that label it still was a step in the door and it allowed room for other opportunities. I hold no grudges. I saw Ty a few times. You know what’s bugged is he re-released that album after Wu-Tang came out with a whole different cover like people was going to go for that. People know what time it is. I tried to reach to him on that.
One thing I noticed right away on the first album was that you were the full package as far as MCing goes. You had the content, voice, style, visuals… From then to now I definitely consider you as one of the all time best MCs – when people talk about a top ten list I always mention the Genius.
Thank you. I’d like to see my name on some of those lists. It’s all bias though. It’s funny ‘cause anytime you’re going to put Rakim number three or number four on some BET thing? Not to take from other artists ‘cause they were guessing from many different things. When it comes to the lyrical and some of the stuff certain brothers put down and you want to try to compare that, and not have me there… [Laughs]
Well, my question is how do you feel about being up there as far as your skills but not regularly getting mentioned like that?
I have mixed feelings. Sometimes it’s great to even be mentioned I guess. I look at it like that also. “Alright, they got me in there thirty, number thirty…” They got Young MC at number twenty-five, and not to take from him, but you get my point.
At the same time, if you was to ask some of my Clan brothers – like I heard RZA saying on MTV that I was the dopest to him. They always say that, “GZA was our Rakim when we were growing up.” RZA mentioned it on MTV one time when he was on there with Nas, Wyclef and maybe it was Busta or someone else and they asked him who is your favorite MC and he was like, “I gotta give it to the GZA round for round.” It’s not because we family, I guess that’s just how they see it. Meth told me the same – I hear it all the time. To be number one in the eyes of my people, my brothers, that means more to me. It ain’t about number one. I’m just talking about being recognized. I do a lot of work that’s not recognized by the masses, but the few who see it recognized.
I ran into Chris Rock once and I’d seen him before but this time I had time to kick. They were out at our show in Los Angeles. It was Chris Rock, Wanda [Sykes] from his show and the other brother does the Pootie Tang [Lance Crouther]. I walked back stage and the lady Wanda was like, “Damn GZA…” – ‘cause she got a funny voice – “Why didn’t you do ‘fizuck your head up?” That’s a line I do on the latest Wu-Tang album, a song called “Babies.” Then she was like, “You need to show these people what a real Genius is.” She was talking about how she felt cheated until she heard Wu-Tang. She said, “I didn’t know about Wu-Tang and this muthaf… [Chris Rock] kept talking about Wu-Tang…” Just the honor and respect they had for us was crazy and to know lyrics. Then Chris Rock started saying Liquid Swords, “That’s one of my top three of all time. That’s with ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,’ that’s up there.” I was telling Chris Rock that it takes me forever to write – all day – forever to put something together. He said, “You know, but it last forever.” Then the other brother was breaking my lyrics down. Me and him could’ve kicked it all night just breaking my own stuff down.
I feel like I do a lot of work that’s not seen by the masses but then when I run into certain people it makes a brother feel it’s well appreciated and worthwhile. I met a kid one time while doing an in-store signing for “Beneath the Surface,” and he came up to me and he had, like, a thirty page essay about me and lyrics. Rhyming about bootie shaking bitties and cars and all that you don’t get people walking up to you with essays [laughter]. That’s cool with me. I’m cool with that.
One of your strong points is story-telling and visuals are so obviously important to you.
And you see that you mentioned that – only someone that really recognized my skills and talent would say that. Do you know how many MCs I hear people say, “He’s an ill story teller” and he ain’t shit. Just because you start a song off “Once upon time” or “A few years ago” and I’m not talking about Slick Rick or Run-DMC so people don’t take that in the wrong way ‘cause I’m not speaking about those individuals. A lot of people who call themselves storytellers start rhymes off like that and think they tell stories and it’s crazy, man. What I strive to do when I write is I try to keep each line connected but I speak about so many different things. You got a lot of artists, whatever they say in two verses I can probably say in a hook and that’s the point.
Speaking of visuals, I know you have talked about getting into doing films. What’s going on with that?
This is probably the first time I said this in all the interviews I’ve done when I’m asked this question – I just think I need to be more serious with it. I want to get into film, but I’m not as serious. Not saying I’m not serious, I just need to be more focused and really do it, but I have a lot of other things that I’m dealing with also as far as music and just trying to get things right. I definitely plan to go to film and keep it attached to the music. You know the movies and the soundtracks.
Is your thing more the writing, directing, acting or what?
Directing and writing. When I say writing – I can’t sit down and write a screenplay, but I can tell you my thoughts and have it written so that’s still me writing it in a sense.
“When I did Shadowboxin/4th Chamber it was all done on the battlefield, but when one song went to the other you couldn’t tell because when it switched tracks, that’s when the war started.”
Click for full image
I know you’ve done some directing of videos. What have you done?
I’ve done all my videos. “Shadowboxin’/4th Chamber” – that was a medley. One thing about that video – that was the one of the only medleys that you can’t see the difference in the songs. Nowadays you have artists that have medleys that go from one song to the other, but you can see the transition. When I did “Shadowboxin’/4th Chamber” it was all done on the battlefield, but when one song went to the other you couldn’t tell because when it switched tracks, that’s when the war started. Ever since I did that I started seeing other artists take just a couple hundred thousand more and doing the same thing. Not to take from them, not to say they bite, but people come to me with all that like, “Yo, you did tractor trailer stuff now everybody wanna do tractor trailers, everybody wanna be in a truck.” I came through in a trailer with a whole side full of speakers – that was “Breaker, Breaker.” I’ve done “Cold World.” I did the “Liquid Swords” video. I did the “Camay” video for Ghost and Rae. I’ve done a video for Case at one time. I’ve done at SWV video featuring Redman. I’ve done about twenty videos. The song I did with DJ Muggs, I directed that video (“Third World” with RZA). I directed “The Tragedy” video for RZA – we did that in Hong Kong.
Any other projects that you are working on that we should know about?
I got some artists that I’m going to start to develop. I don’t want to speak on in it too soon. I got a son that get busy too, but I’m not forcing. He’s ten now and he was on tour with us when he was five – on the Rage tour. He wasn’t rhyming on stage or anything – he came out rocking with us, but hip-hop is all in him. I know there’s a lot of shorties out there and I could have done a song and put him out there, but it’s getting flooding with that now. It’s so in him naturally that I don’t even have to rush, but when he come, trust me you gonna see – you’ll definitely see what I’m talking about. I won’t even speak on it.