THE KOOL MOE DEE INTERVIEW
Updated: Jul 9
JayQuan : Peace , its an honor . Who was the first person you heard Emcee ; and what year did you start ?
Moe Dee : Dj Hollywood , actually Luv Bug Starski first , then Hollywood . And I started in 1977 .
JQ : What was the political climate on the Hip Hop scene before records were made ?
MD : My perspective is a lil different 'cus im from Manhattan . It was really crackin' in the Bronx on a level that we didn't know about which is why we heard Luvbug first . Hollywood would come to the Apollo and Luvbug would come to the Renaissance on 137th & 7th Ave. We heard them say slogans ; like the first time Flash & them came to the Audubon Ballroom we heard people yell " Zulu Gestapo " and we didn't know what it was . In Manhattan , and its true on some level till this day ; its a whole different mentality from the Bronx , Brooklyn & Queens , which I didn't know at the time - because you basically just know your neighborhood . The Nicky Barnes era was booming and just ending at the same time , and we were looking at the drug dealers on one hand ; but the music scene wasn't that prominent in Manhattan. We would get dressed up and go to the hotel Diplomat and parties were a version of the Dj/Emcee. It wasnt that political . Some of the free lunch programs were still goin' on - based on the last leg of the Black Panther Party . As far as Hip Hop Manhattan was after the Bronx . Brooklyn had Dj Flowers & people like that ; but we never went to Brooklyn , so we didn't hear about him until after the fact .
JQ : At the point between the Treacherous 3 forming and Sugar Hill / Enjoy releasing records who did the T3 see as a threat lyrically - specifically you , did anyone pose a threat to you ?
KMD : Nah , we didn't look at it as a threat at the time . A lot of that energy came from the Furious 5 , in fact they weren't even the Furious 5 yet . T3 didn't become a group until ' 78 and originally it was me L.A. & Spoonie G . Spoonie left because he made a record in ' 79 and I replaced him with Special K . K went to my school , I had already met him through the fast rhymes . So there was no atmosphere of threat , more trying to fit in & get a handle of what was going on . It really wasnt until ' 78 that Flash & The Furious 4 formed - Rahiem wasn't down yet . I remember when it was just the three Emcees and then Flash put Mr Ness down. I remember the night Flash premiered the backspin . That was when I knew that I was gonna take this seriously & do it for the rest of my life .
Until that time I wrote rhymes , but it was more like Hollywood & Starski with the crowd participation and call & response. I wasn't really taking it seriously....they would bring music & set up in the park & I would get on and do a little something . But that night at the Audubon I went to see Starski...but they would double bill it - they had Flash from 10 - 12 and Starski from 12 - 2 ; then Flash from 2- 4 and Starski from 4 - 6 . At that time Starski was the headliner at the Audubon ; and the hottest thing as far as the club was concerned . He & Hollywood were the # 1 & 2 at the time . Until Flash came to Manhattan (this is some more friction between Manhattan & the Bronx) it wasn't that Flash wasn't valid ; but when he came it opened him up to the domination of the whole situation ' cuz we were still lookin at Starski & Hollywood as the top dogs . We heard about Flash and Herc but as far as New York went we didnt see them we didn't know what they were doing ; and nobody is rockin parties like Luvbug - so he is the top dog.
The Audubon was the first time you had the fusion of Manhattan comin' to see Luvbug & Bronx comin to see Flash . I'll never forget Starski was about to get off and Creole was telling him to turn his music off - like arrogantly . He was like " its time for Grandmaster !! " . I was annoyed like who is this kid tellin Starski to get off - hes got a lot of nerve !! Finally Starski said arrogantly " we gonna take a break now , but we will be right back " - basically like we're just killin time 'cuz they're on the bill - makin' a lil slap at them . I was in the front row and they turned the lights out . Creole starts this long intro over this echo chamber ...it was the first time i'd ever heard that . I call Creole the original hype man . Flavor Flav is the Grandson of him ( I do the blood line on Hip Hop ) . But he did the greatest show on Earth type of intro like aaaaarrrrreeee yyyooouuu rrreeaaddyyyyyy , and Flash dropped the bells - Mardis Gras .
And in Manhattan we listened to Michael Jackson and whatever club record was out , and the Dj would rhyme over that . We didn't get into a lot of breaks besides Jam On The Groove , stuff like that . Starski had just finished doing a routine over a Michael Jackson beat , and when Flash threw on the bells ; the Bronx crowd knew what was up ; they went crazy , and the Manhattan crowd couldn't deny that somethin' was happening that was different . I was shocked 'cuz not only did they intro Flash and he came in on beat , the spotlight hits Cowboy who was sittin' in a chair , he just started spelling his name out....it was the hottest shit that i'd heard at that point. " The C-O-W-B-O-Y the man is bad , that you cant deny ". As simple as that was , nobody was doin' it that way . Then he passed the mic to Mele Mel and it was the first time I heard metaphor . Mel did a metaphor & I said this is how I want to do this . That's why I say that Melle Mel is the prototype of what everybody is doin' today .
JQ : Its good to hear someone admit that . Most Emcees today respect Rakim , but Ra says that his style came from you & Mele Mel .
KMD : The blood line is Me , Mel & Caz - the trinity , then KRS One , Rakim & Kane then Biggie , Nas & Jay Z. Even further you can go Caz - Kane - Jay Z .....they all had street flavor ; then Mel - KRS - Biggie...they had the social thing (even Biggie with the story telling was social) , then the cerebral side was myself - Rakim - Nas . Then you have more levels - there's always 3 masters , a superstar & an underground . So for our era the super star was Kurtis Blow - me , Mel & Caz were the masters and Spoonie Gee was underground . The next tier is Rakim , Kane & KRS as the masters and LL Cool J is the superstar - the underground is T La Rock . Biggie, Nas and Jay Z are the masters - Tupac is the star ; and its funny because sometimes the superstar gets into a battle with the Emcee . I always said that Tupac was the bigger Emcee because of his stardom and diversity , but Biggie was the more pure Emcee. Also in Rakim's era was Kool G Rap . But back to ' 77 ...it wasnt a climate of any real competition yet , until I started making noise with the fast rhymes . The way the streets were then , people would get tapes or come see you , and the attention switched from the Dj to the Emcee ; people were comin' to hear the rhymes . Mele Mel was the first one to have that solid reputation...in fact the whole group did but Mel was like the standout ; like he was the dominating force .
When we became Treacherous 3 about two years into it ; there was little talk of " I heard this kid named Moe Dee ". I didn't even know that people were doing that kind of separation - like they were picking me out in the group . LA was a party Emcee , Special K was like a metaphor rhymer also , and I guess because my voice was deeper and I rhymed first - people just made the association . I didn't know at the time that the energy that I was giving off was like a battle Emcee . I was always talking about what I could and would do , and you would always make rhymes about the competition even though we weren't thinking about competition . We heard later through the grapevine that we were being compared to the Furious 5 , and because of that we were getting feedback that they were saying that we weren't all that , that we were copying them blah blah blah. On some level that was true because we were patterning a lot of what we did after what they did ; the object was to never bite .
We would never bite their rhymes or style , just invent within that . Because Furious 5 was the prototype that was what we did . To take it one step further the Funky 4 don't get a lot of credit for being the first to do the Temptation style rhymes and break lines up between each other. They more defined what we did than Furious , so the competition element didn't really kick in until like ' 80 . There was no real threats ; if anything I was being touted as a threat to Mel's throne . And at the same time Furious made a record - Supper Rappin' , then we made New Rap Language then Furious made Freedom and we made Heartbeat ; so it looked liked every time they made something hot , we did too so the comparison was always there .
As we got into the record zone the Cold Crush started taking over the streets and Caz was the dominant Emcee there so he started being seen in the same light as me and Mel . That's how the original trinity formed . When we met Cold Crush we were surprised at how good we all got along ' cus by '80 you thought that everybody had an ax to grind or were against each other , so we met them and saw how cool everything went and we've been like brothers ever since. So the only competition at the time would have been Furious ; we were ready to battle and all of that , but for me I always respected excellence . Once we got into an argument at Sugar Hill records with Furious , and just because of how my personality is I said " listen y'all got one Emcee , if we battle its gon' be me & Mel - K can take two of y'all - L.A. will take on two of y'all because you're weak ".
I just wanted to insult them on the deepest level . I said " Cowboy & Scorpio I haven't heard a whole rhyme between the two of you - L.A. can demolish you , Rahiem & Creole...Rahiem got a little bit of skill....Creole I've been hearin' the same shit since '77 so K can out do you. Mel is a poet but he don't know how to battle - you're gonna get crushed" !! I think that it hit home , because they were so angry that they wanted to fight and everything - I was like lets just do it !! I always brought a different analysis to the equation....even with the battles...I would take a person and break down their weaknesses and put it in rhyme form and a lot of Emcees don't know - there is a humor element to battle , an insult element , a truth element , and you can even add a spiritual , or Afrocentric element like KRS does . When you put those all together it makes you multi dimensional , and a lot of Emcees think that its just sayin' the hottest shit to make the crowd react , when there is so much more. That's why the best battle Emcees in the history of the game are : KRS , Big Daddy Kane , Caz & myself . I see some new guys with potential , but the environment that we are in now doesn't allow them to fully show their wit . Like Nas & Jay Z - it was refreshing on one hand to see it , but it wasn't like the old battles. Nas just did the truth thing on him , and that just shocked the people , but there is a certain level of lyrical wit that I miss in the battle .
JQ : Yeah Jay came back at him with the "condoms on your baby seat" thing...the humor .
KMD : That's when I knew that Nas had gotten to Jay - Z psychologically , his response sounded like an emotional rush . Almost like Tyson trying to prove that he can come back & beat Holyfield a second time and he bit his ear . Its not like Jay Z cant rhyme , but people have specialties . Jay Z s specialty is street flavor and hustler game , but to battle someone like Nas you have to step it up a notch . I always said that the reason LL can never win a battle is because he talks so much about himself , that he cant talk about anything else . He used his charisma , energy and vocabulary - which is basically a combination of my style , T la Rock & Run but in battling its more . Like when I hit him with the Ls ( lower level , lackluster etc) it wasn't just insulting , but it had poetic value to it .
JQ : What was your honest feeling the first time that you heard Rappers Delight ?
KMD : I thought that the skill level was straight corny . But the fact that Hip Hop was getting play it put it on a nationwide level . It was like ok, now we can go and make records....because we weren't thinking quite on that level yet . It was mixed emotions - on one hand its good and on the other its like this ain't even an authentic group . I've always approached things analytically and I have to say that there is no reason to attack them for being in the right place at the right time . So I never dissed Sugar Hill Gang till this day....Mel took the opposite approach . When Furious got the deal on Enjoy he had rhymes saying "we don't pop no Sugar Hill shit". Mel is the most outspoken in the history of the game . I can appreciate that on one side , but we have to remember that the system is designed corruptly , and works against us , so you cant convict those who can benefit from the system , because its not necessarily their fault . Now if you pop shit then yeah that's where my battle with L.L. came. He felt like nothing that came before him mattered , and that his money could validate that . Whodini, Fat Boys..none of them ever popped that . That's why my biggest problems were with LL & Run .
JQ : How did the fast rhyme style from New Rap Language come about ?
KMD : Actually I was sittin' on the toilet writing rhymes - which is a place that I write a lot . If I take it back to the genesis I would have to say that it came from a Kid Creole rhyme . He was saying something like " Mele Mel my flesh & blood is busy being the joint ". I was like why didn't he keep that going like a flurry . So I just added on.
JQ : Did you have any idea that it would be so influential ?
KMD : I did know that it was something that no one was doing at the time - I thought it would f*ck people up. People started saying - oh yeah Moe Dee the guy with the fast rhymes . A lot of Emcees don't know that you write rhymes in the same cadence that you speak combined with the way that you breathe . Some Emcees , LL especially you could hear gasping for breath . To me the whole point of being cool was to be smooth ; and Rakim heightened the smooth level . I heard Eric B is President and I was like ok he is cool but when I heard the flip side ; My Melody I had to pull over. I literally could feel that a new sheriff was in town .
JQ : Do you think that the Sugar Hill label could have been more successful if they moved forward sooner as far as production and stripping down the music like Run DMC did ?
KMD : I think that Sugar Hill had the self destruct template in place . They didn't take it serious and they weren't building careers . Russell Simmons to his credit was the first to say that if the r&b acts have a video , my acts need a video - we need daytime airplay not just nighttime. Sugar Hill never took that approach. They were very arrogant and cocky and they thought that anything they put it would work . Sylvia had gotten fat from Sugar Hill Gang & Grandmaster Flash. The Message had blown up and they weren't passionate about it . They would just send in the musicians and say play this. It came out ok for what it was but no real production was happening , even though Sylvia would put her name on as producer . We did " Whip It " one way and she called us later and said that she wanted us to hear something. She had added Philippe Wynne from the Spinners !! We just looked at each other and she was tellin' us " Flash & them didn't want to do the Message, but I know what I'm talkin' about - you have to take it to the next level" . She was arrogant with it instead of passionate about it . She told me to go in there and do some of those fast rhymes at the top - I'm like that's kinda played ; its' 82 I've been doin' that shit since '78 !!!
JQ : Musically did you have any creative control ?
KMD : We had all creative control but no support . We came out with Action at the same time that Run DMC did Sucker Mc's . I loved Action but Sucker Mc's was sonically more powerful . Action was not as powerful as I wanted it to be . It originally was supposed to be a combination of the break beat from Action and ESG's UFO , but when the group played it they just couldn't capture the sound .
JQ : Speaking of Run DMC, was the battle on Graffiti Rock staged .
KMD : It was real - when I walked in Jam Master J - in front of Run said " go easy on us, it's TV - be cool wit it". Run looked at him like what the f*ck !!! Its not that Run was scared , but the Busy Bee battle was already well known , and I had a battle reputation . They did a vote and people on WBLS said that we won like 60 to 50 out of 110 people . Same thing happened when Furious did Showdown with Sugar Hill Gang it was a close vote.
JQ : That's crazy - Melle Mel told me that Sequence wrote Sugar Hill Gangs rhymes for Showdown !! Did your deal with Enjoy come about from Spoonie G being Bobby Robinson's nephew ?
KMD : Yeah , Spoonie had a record called " Spoonin Rap " , he came over Easy Lees one day and said check this out . I thought he had a new break beat or something . Then I hear " one for the trouble two for the time ". I'm like you made a record...like a real record , not some Atlantic City board walk in the booth shit . The thing that I didn't like was that he wanted to separate right then. The crazy dynamic in our group was Spoonie & K never respected Sunshine's rhyme skills . They would always take the opportunity to diss him . But everyone again has a specialty .
L.A. was a party Emcee like Doug E Fresh . I always told them that if L.A. is not in the group it wont work live . He has the charisma for the live shit !! You cant have 5 Rakim's on stage - people want to be entertained . Even in the Furious 5 Cowboy was the call & response guy , Creole was the hype man , Mel was the Emcee , Scorp was the flosser & Rahiem basically was the only one trying to keep up with Mel . Even when Rakim & Kane were gonna battle I said if it was on wax Rakim would win , but on stage Kane would destroy him .
JQ : The 3 people that I wanted to talk to since childhood are you , Caz & Mel ....why haven't you done anything together with just you three ?
KMD : We have been trying for decades to do that . We are gonna do this song called the Untouchables . Our energies were always separated and at one time I was just about to blow up - the hardest thing I had to do in my career was " Go See The Doctor " - I knew I was making a formula record , and I was about to make a killing ; but I will lose all my reputation on the lyricist side . I knew that " Do you know what time it is " & " Doctor " would blow because I had dumbed it down .
JQ : I know that you've answered this many times before but how many Busy Bee battles took place ?
KMD : There were two , the first was a draw . That's the one that everybody has . Here's the bullshit again . The kids at Harlem World , when they saw what happened - he got a lot of screams he had a lotta people from the Bronx there , I had a lot of people from Manhattan ; that not only weren't gonna let me lose , but they were like did you just hear that ? The rhyme I said was damn near off the top of the head , I was stumbling over it , I wasn't confident . The reality was I still would have won that night , but the Harlem World crew wanted to milk it , and bring it back 4 days later ; because that was like Dec 27 and they wanted to do it again on New Years eve . It was another way to make money...it was a Christmas Emcee contest , and it was supposed to be over on the 27th . The 2nd one the tape machine was broken - the way I won , I did a New Years eve show on Long Island with Disco Twins . I had to be back by 2 a.m. . It was like a movie scene - I got back at 5 minutes till 2 Busy Bee was talking shit , we had to find a parking space , they were about to pull the plug , its 2 minutes till 2. I told L.A. to get out of the car - go in and tell'em I'm coming. Busy Bee is in the middle of his speech " I told y'all I'm the Chief Rocker , I don't ever lose ; I ain't lost in 2 years , I'm undefeated - I told you that was a fluke the other night , he ain't gonna show" . I got out - I was running through the crowd , that shit opened up like the Red Sea , I jumped up on stage and turned my hat backwards .
That's the other part of battling - the intro is important , taking the crowd where you want them to be for your benefit . So I said " I know I wasn't here , but based on the limitations of my so - called adversary I know he got nothing else in his arsenal , so I know this is what you just heard - clap ya hands yall , c'mon nobody can do it like this Busy Bee can" . I was doing his voice and everything . Easy Lee threw on Funky President and I kept it going " baw diddy baw dang di dang diggy diggy..do you love ya mother ? Do you love ya sister - what's your favorite jeans" . Then I started yawning and sounding drowsy ..like its the same tired shit . The crowd was screaming - I imitated him for about a minute then I ended like I fell asleep. They were laughing so hard...niggas were throwing their hats down...I didn't even have to rhyme , I ended just like that. Charlie Rock got up there and said " I don't think I have to ask ; Busy Bee (silence) Kool Moe Dee "- the crowd goes wild !! The real secret that nobody knows is that I felt like shit after that .
I felt like a bully - in my heart I knew that he was no contest....he was a party Emcee....he was a master at his game , but not this part of the game . He got beside himself - because the way that it started he was on stage doin the Ali theatrical shit - " Chief Rocker Busy Bee , take a picture of me and this trophy right here , take the picture right now , this is me - Busy Bee , I'm undefeated - I'm knockin' out all bums ." One person in the crowd said " ya lucky Moe Dee ain't in it " - and Busy says to him...I'm Busy Bee I don't care who's in it this is my trophy. So I took the sucker move & let the agitator in the crowd push the fight . I had never had a problem with Busy , and Busy was real cool with Spoonie , and he used to get high with L.A. !! The 1st tape I told Charlie Rock to put me in the contest after Busy Bee and right before Cold Crush . I have heard that the second battle is somewhere on a reel to reel tape .
JQ : I heard that you & Mele Mel battled back in the early 80s at the fever .
KMD : Yeah that was ' 83 . We were going at it up until ' 85 . I rarely talk about it because A) I don't consider it a real battle- B) that nigga is straight up my hero - I give him props for setting the tone and I feel that he got a raw deal ; thee rawest deal in Hip Hop - to create on the level that he did and not reap the benefits - that's like a motherfucker creating the computer chip , and watching Bill Gates get rich from it.
JQ : When the T3 moved from Enjoy to Sugar Hill were your contracts sold ?
KMD :Bobby gave Sugar Hill 3 records to put on an album and they bought the rights to the album. It was " At The Party " , " Body Rock " and " Heartbeat " . That was the album where we had the red suits on.
JQ: Based on Sugar Hill Gang and Furious 5s successes at Sugar Hill , did you feel like there would be greener pastures over there ?
KMD : Absolutely . In fact they did the pimp move on the signing. Joey came over in the limo , looking for us in the neighborhood .
JQ : Was " Turn It Up " the start of your solo career ?
KMD : Partially. Sugar Hill had put Furious 5 ,Crash Crew & Funky 4 on suspension . What that meant was that they still had the rights to your contract , which was a 5 year contract at the time ; and nobody could touch you till those 5 years were over . So under the suspension those 5 years don't count . So they had 5 more years to put you on suspension , in addition to the other 3 that you owed them . By the time the first 2 years is over everybody is pissed because they didn't make any money . I was like I don't want to be on suspension I wanna knock these years out . L.A. and K - L.A. in particular didn't want to make any more records for her (Sylvia) .
I said that ain't the strategy , we have to keep our name out and make some kind of living . We can't chill for 2 years . So while they were stayin' away , I was goin to Sugar Hill daily - like sellout Joe - sayin' I don't know what's wrong with them . I finally talked them back into the studio , it was June of ' 85 - I programmed the beat for Gotta Rock & Turn It Up - my first production . I wrote the routine thing at the beginning to the beat of Queens - " We Will Rock You " and I told them just to write...however many bars you want . That's why Ks rhyme was so long. That's one thing about K he would always compete with me . He is a Virgo - so that competitive energy always came out . We did Gotta Rock & L.A. took it to Mr Magic (WBLS) and the phones lit up .
It blew up and K & L.A. didnt want to go back . We went to the studio to do Turn It Up & K showed up but no L.A. . K didn't stay the whole session - he put down a quick rhyme and L.A. hadn't shown up two days later so I erased K's verse - because his rhyme was sloppy . So when Turn It Up comes out K is waiting to hear his voice . I told him how he wasn't really feelin' it and L.A. never showed...I wasn't doing the Treacherous 2 , and we needed a B side . Two things happened - first "The Show" came out by Doug E Fresh, and took over the summer . That was the end of Gotta Rock .
By the end of the summer people started turning it over and playing Turn It Up . The radio shows had call - ins and people were saying they had been waiting for me to go solo . I already had a fan base within the group . In '86 I was listening to all these Latoya's & La Di Da Di 's and I said I'm gonna make one of these records ( even though on Bad Mutha I said I don't do those kind of records). And I dumbed it down..." I was walking down the street rockin' my beat ".......a step up from clap your hands. Every time I do something that is against the grain and not what I would usually do , it blows up . Even Xmas rap . After Doctor blew up my plan was to go and do another T3 Lp .
JQ : How did Teddy Riley come about as producer on your works.
KMD : Teddy was just a kid in the neighborhood who stayed out later than he was supposed to playing in after hours spots . I met him through a friend and when he did Doctor I liked his energy , so when I got my deal he came on as producer .
JQ : On "Knowledge Is King" and "Funky Wisdom" you drop knowledge and seem more Afrocetric , is this just personal growth , or just the times - Public Enemy , X Clan etc ?
KMD : I was always there , but I didn't know that you could do it in Hip Hop and make it work . My favorite era personally is ' 89- P.E. at their height. My romantically favorite era is 78 , 79 listening to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 4 , the live tapes , echo chamber & break beats . I cant think of two times more profound than those .
JQ : How closely did you vibe with Tupac on the set of Gang Related ?
KMD : We didn't get a chance to talk as much as I wished we could have . I believe that if we had then maybe he would still be here . I saw the direction that he was going into . He was a Gemini and with them if they are not leaders , but are put in leadership positions -he had leadership qualities but was not a natural leader - because of that he was an individual - not a follower - but an individual . When you're in that position its easy to feel that you have to validate yourself by saying you're still from the hood and still gutter . Like I heard Ja Rule say that his next album is gonna be gutter -' cus he has to make sure the streets understand him . We get to that level where we want to be accepted by the coolest people on the planet . In Black America its the streets. In white America its the rich . The unfortunate part is that Tupac was trying to prove that he was still street . Like when he was in Vegas and chasing the guy in the Casino - you have no business chasing this guy and you're the top selling rapper. That's like worrying about someone calling you a player hater - we create these templates and stigmas and then try to avoid them . Someone creates keep it real - which is supposed to mean being true all the time , then if you keep it real and your keep it real is out of sync with someone else's - you're a player hater.
As told to JayQuan c/o JayQuan Dot Com / Big Fish MultiMedia/JAH Holdings LLC
No part may be copied or reproduced in any form without authors permission
*Thanks To Microphone Wizard DLB from Fearless 4*