Before Nas, before Mobb Deep, before Capone-N-Noreaga, and before the aforementioned collectively helped make their stomping grounds “the monument” to grimey, hardcore Hip Hop that it is today, it was MC Shan who first put “The Bridge” on the Rap map.
Beginning in the mid-‘80s, with the assistance of his cousin, deejay/producer Marley Marl, the then teenage Shan started drafting the blueprint for future Queensbridge rhymers to build their street-certified careers from. And while he subsequently released just three full-length’s (1987’s inarguable classic, Down By Law, its almost equally engrossing follow-up, 1988’s Born To Be Wild, and the more musical, Marley-less effort, 1990’s Play It Again, Shan), the take-no-shit spitter made more of an impact on the game in just a few short years than most artists do over the course of their entire careers.
As the first superstar to emerge from The Juice Crew (the legendary unit comprised of emcees Shan, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shante, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace, Craig G., Tragedy Khadafi, singer T.J. Swan, and helmed by Marley and his WBLS-FM co-worker/founder of Cold Chillin’ Records, Tyrone “Fly Ty” Williams), Shan used his powerful platform to admirably address the early stages of the Crack Epidemic on his classic cuts “Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing” and “Cocaine” (a/k/a the conceptual forefather to Nas’ “I Gave You Power”). The cocky wordsmith simultaneously engaged in impressive lyrical exercises atop Marley’s music to wop to, which was driven by the then revolutionary process of sampling drum-driven breakbeats.
An accomplished producer in his own right, it was actually MC Shan who synthesized the track Rakim memorized his then self-admitted “unusual” delivery to for his first B-side single. And then in 1992, Shan crafted the biggest hit of his career, not for himself or any other emcee, but for Caucasian Dancehall singer Snow’s #1 smash “Informer.” The song became so big that it netted millions for Shan, but also guaranteed that he would never record another album of his own.
Besides cashing out with Snow, it was the other motivator behind why he refused to record again that comprised the core of Shan’s recent discussion with HipHopDX. During his revealing conversation about the business of music, Shan exposed the label and producer he believes are behind recent re-issues of his classic recordings (including next month’s slated release of Q.B. O.G.: The Best of M.C. Shan) without his knowledge and without compensating the man whose name and likeness is gracing their covers.
The self-avowed “hater” also candidly spoke about the recent news-making YouTube exchanges with his cousin (and revealed if the two will actually tour together as planned this Spring), as well as his original beef with KRS-One for one of Hip Hop’s greatest on-wax wars (and if he regrets responding to the then unknown B.D.P. front-man). The CEO of his own Bridge Works label (digitally distributed by Interscope Records, and which just released the new Shan-featured single “Butterflies” from veteran R&B trio Allure) shared additional stories of his “wild boy” past, including standing up to the brolic “Beat Biter” and tongue-lashing the man who could have made him a sitcom star, while revealing the long unknown real reason why he defiantly declared “the Klan makes Troop’s.”
The now older and wiser pioneer of boom-bap Hip Hop still remains one of the culture’s most outspoken figures, or as he explained his particular brand of directness to DX: “Shani always tells people like this – Roxanne Shante, she says, ‘If you want a lie, come ask me. But if you want the straight truth, go ask Shan.’”
HipHopDX: I wanna start off by asking you about the video for “Time For Us To Defend Ourselves” [from Play It Again, Shan]. I put the classic clip at number three in my recent “10 Most Powerful Videos In Hip Hop History” editorial for DX, and I was just curious to know if there was any backlash at the time for that striking visual showcasing police brutality in a way it really hadn’t been shown before?
MC Shan: Well, that story really came about because they actually killed my friend, Richard Lou, [a/k/a “Rich Kid”]. And, at that point they really didn’t like me too much, because I wasn’t one of the drug dealers but still I was driving around the ‘Bridge in an Audi. They couldn’t really touch me. And then when I made that video about the police, that really made them touchy. I was getting pulled over on the regular. But like I said in the song, “You not catching me doing anything, boy, so catch me.”
DX: I was an avid Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City watcher at the time, but I don’t remember seeing that video a lot. Did you get resistance from the networks?
MC Shan: Yeah, I kind of got resistance, because in the end it shows a little boy with a gun getting ready to take a potshot at the police. And so, just being edgy like that, it got a little flak. It got a little play, but I also had to do an edit on it because of that gun scene in the end of the video.
DX: Did that lead to your separation from Warner Brothers Records? Did that have anything to do with you breaking away from the label after that?
MC Shan: No, Warner Brothers was alright, but they just didn’t understand our music at that time. People always say to me “What’s that Play It Again, Shan album about?” At that time in Hip Hop there were a lot of critics saying that Hip Hop wasn’t music. Warner Brothers being one of ‘em. And so they didn’t really know what to do with our music and they kept on having this little thing like, “Oh, Hip Hop is not creative.” So what I did with Play It Again, Shan was I went and replayed samples and made it a little musical. Just to defend what we doing like, “Y’all say we can’t rhyme over things like that, okay, here’s what it is.” I made a House record, [“Ain’t It Good To You”], with some rhymes on it. I did some other kind of stuff [like the Go-Go record, “It Don’t Mean A Thing”]. I just took it to a different extreme …. I might not have liked everything that was in the sample, so I’d just take the bassline and play it over, or a little keyboard part, play it over.
DX: Speaking of playing live music for songs …. Can you clarify exactly what you did for Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody”?
MC Shan: I played the keyboards, the do-do-do-do. And I mixed the record because me and Marley [Marl], we didn’t think that it was [worth the time]. Rakim had a funny style, so every time he’d bust a rhyme we’d go on the side of the wall and laugh. So the track wasn’t something that Marley was really into, and so he just let me mix it. So when you hear those echoes, that’s my mix right there.
DX: I get a sense Rakim is a really keen dude, and I notice he didn’t really work with Marley again after that, so did he realize you guys were clownin’ him and that’s why he stopped fuckin’ with y’all?
MC Shan: No, that wasn’t it. Rakim was really with Eric B., and Eric B. was our friend. So Eric brought Rakim through. So whatever Eric and Ra did after that first [single, “Eric B. Is President” b/w “My Melody,”] came out, that was on them. It wasn’t the fact that [we laughed at him]. That was just Eric B.’s [man and we were looking out].
DX: Now, we gotta get to this …. You said in your “True Stories” video last month that “Marley did sucker shit” including taking production credit for songs various members of The Juice Crew produced on their own albums. Is that why you stopped working with Marley after your second album, Born to Be Wild?
MC Shan: No, I stopped working with him like that because we wasn’t really getting it right in the studio. And, I wanted to get the money that he was getting. So when he say ain’t nobody was getting paid, Marley was getting bread back then. Marley had condos. Marley had 24-track boards when people was still getting little bullcrap [advances]. So, I wanted to get in on some of that bread. I wanted my publishing. I still got robbed for that – Fly Ty, thank you very much.
As far as my beats, anything that [Marley] did of mine, he did from scratch. Straight up, he did all of mine. But other people in the crew, they’d bring records. And even [Masta] Ace said it. I seen a video where Ace said that Ace was the first one that really demanded his production credits.
DX: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know Big Daddy Kane did a lot of his own production too.
MC Shan: Well, I wasn’t trying to throw [Marley] under the bus.
But … I’m looking at that [D-Nice Presents True Hip-Hop Stories: Masta Ace video from late 2008] where Ace saying that I was being a sucker [about not wanting to be on “The Symphony” with “new jacks”]. Anybody that knows me will tell you straight up I’m not no sucker like that. And for them [to believe Marley telling them I said that], that really touched me because now that’s on the Internet. That’s gonna be out there forever …. And so what it was three years ago, it coulda been 20 years ago I’m still gonna say something. I’m not no sucker.
DX: It seems like there’s still monetary issues surrounding this whole thing. You said in your response video to Marley’s response video that only Marley’s been getting paid for these CD re-releases in recent years of your albums. So is Traffic Entertainment or anybody paying you for this –
MC Shan: [Interrupts] Nobody’s paying me. And look, I just seen on Amazon I’ve got a new album coming out March 13th.
DX: Q.B. O.G., yep.
MC Shan: See! Look at that, even you know about it. So where are they getting this music from? Who got the masters? Marley has the masters. He gotta be involved in that some kind of way. I’m sorry, I can’t just sit back and say, “Nah, nah.” He got the masters. Where they getting it from? The last two [re-releases] that they just put out in 2007 and 2010, there were Marley remixes on there. So he’s not getting no bread off of that? C’mon, man.
DX: Just playing devil’s advocate though, could it be anybody that was affiliated with Cold Chillin’ [Records]? Anybody else besides Marley.
MC Shan: Fly Ty or Marley. Them is the only two that have the masters. [Cold Chillin’ Records President] Lenny Fischelberg is dead. So if he’s doing it from the grave, big power to him. But Lenny Fischelberg is no longer on this planet with us. And so it’s only two other people that I can look at and I can think of that have control of these things – Because alright, he might not own the whole thing, but Marley owns half of those masters.
And another thing I would like to straighten up right now about that video where he’s saying [that we set up beef as bait to bloggers]. I’m not a fake dude; I don’t do fake things. So I don’t want nobody to sit back and say, “Oh, that was fake.” It was not fake, I don’t be fakin’, I don’t fake moves, only fake people do fake things.
I just know there’s another album coming out. If I’m so irrelevant, then why I got three and four and five best-of MC Shan’s out?
DX: Yeah, they’ll be releasing Down by Law 20 years from now, I guarantee it.
MC Shan: Yeah, but by that time I’ll been done took care of my business and I’ll been had my thing straight. ‘Cause I got a couple of people looking at it like, “Yo, word? I’ll take that case!” Ain’t nothing but paper involved. I mean, I’ve got the album cover sheet that says that – Even if they ain’t re-putting out Play it Again, Shan, that publishing belongs to me. There’s a thing on the bottom of my cover that says “MC Shan Music, Administered by Warner Brothers.” Warner Brothers ain’t forwarding me nothing, on anything!
DX: Not to rehash too much ancient history here but can we just clear up – I’ve always wanted to know why you left the game. You had those three albums, you had a strong presence in the game, why weren’t there any more albums after that? Did you just make a conscience decision to walk away?
MC Shan: I made a conscience decision not to do no more music with Cold Chillin’. Now, if you look at the timeline, I produced Snow at that point. I was getting millions of dollars with Snow. I got jerked for every other album that I had before, so why would I go and continue [releasing solo albums]? Who knows how many more albums I had left with Cold Chillin’? I didn’t care. I was out on tour with Snow just rappin’ one verse and making money on the production side, the publishing side and everything. So I didn’t really care about [my solo career], especially to do another record with Cold Chillin’ to get jerked. For what?
DX: Did you ever try to go to another label though to like try and break out of the contract?
MC Shan: Nope. You know how much money I had? I ain’t give a fuck about a record, I ain’t give a fuck about a label, none of that shit. I was ballin’ out like that. Black people, we get bread and we spend it. I still get money, but I ain’t got six cars in my yard. But back then I was ballin’ out, so I ain’t give a shit about that.
DX: But a few years later when Nas’ Illmatic drops and then Mobb Deep’s drops, aren’t you thinking to yourself like, “Man, I coulda had those guys”?
MC Shan: No, Marley coulda had those guys. ‘Cause everybody went to Marley in Queensbridge. Mobb [Deep] went to Marley, Nas used to go to Marley, but they all [ended up doing] they own thing though. It wasn’t go to Shan and do it; I wasn’t the producer dude, I was just the rhymer doing what I do.
I wanna clear up one more thing …. Anybody that knows me from back then they know I was a wild boy. I’m still wild in my old age but I’m a little calmer. And for people to think that I wouldn’t of kept coming at [KRS-One after “Kill That Noise”] – that was a conscience decision on Marley not to respond to [“The Bridge Is Over”]. Because, he thought that it would make them more famous. But me, I was ready to go until we died! Anybody will tell you that about me back then. It’s only you people that just believe what you read [that think KRS ended the battle with “The Bridge Is Over”]. And if I don’t respond to these things it just keeps going where it’s going. But I gotta make that one clear …. C’mon, Kris is my man now and he already know how I got down, period. I went at any and everybody in the game.
DX: Why though? At the time he was nobody. You made him somebody.
MC Shan: Listen, I’m happy that he is. Because, if he wouldn’t have made [“South Bronx”] we wouldn’t be in the history books right now. So, it was a bigger plan. It wasn’t directed by us. So I say that I’m happy that it went the way that it did, because if it didn’t go any other way our songs might’ve just came and went like a whole bunch of other artists that got songs that came out and now you don’t even know who they are 20 years later. Here we are 25 years later and I’m doing an interview with you about some shit I did way back then.
DX: Yeah, that’s true. I do have a question to ask you about the immediate future …. Are you still gonna go and do this Juice Crew reunion show in London in April?
MC Shan: Yeah! Why wouldn’t I?
DX: You and your cousin gonna square this shit away then?
MC Shan: Look, that right there, I said what I said and that’s what it is. I’m not retracting nothing I said. This is about getting some bread. I’m not going to get locked up abroad. I don’t wanna get locked up here, picture me going abroad somewhere and starting some shit. Nah. I can deal with it here. Fuck that, I’ll do the fuckin’ 30 days or whatever. But it won’t even get to that. We killed that because it’s not a thing of I’m trying to beef. I’m just trying to say what’s on my mind, shit I wanted to say for years and years. And don’t knock me for saying it, don’t call me a hater, don’t try and make me [stop], don’t try and calm me down, because I’m not that one. Everybody already knows I got a mouth on me. I’ma say what I gotta say and that’s gonna be the end of it.
DX: Let’s move on from this stuff …. Back in the late ‘80s you basically helped put the Troop clothing line out of business with your “the Klan makes Troop’s” line from “I Pioneered This.” The owners of Troop were actually Jewish and Korean. Did you ever converse with them about at first reppin’ their gear hard and then going after them like that?
MC Shan: I was just saying some rapper stuff; I wasn’t even paying attention to [who owned Troop]. LL Cool J was wearing Troop and I was dissin’ LL, and that was the bottom line. I didn’t care about who made it really. That’s what we heard in the streets, [that] the [Ku Klux] Klan makes Troop’s. And so when I put it in my record it was a subliminal thing, ‘cause I never mentioned his name on that one. But, “Puma’s the brand ‘cause the Klan makes Troop’s” was ‘cause we all knew who was wearing Troop’s at that point.
DX: But you were rockin’ the shit first, you were rockin’ it before LL…
MC Shan: No, I rocked Puma on my stage. All my performances, I ain’t never really rocked no Troop. I had one jacket that was different. I don’t think it was Troop, but it was one different – I remember it, it had stars on the sleeve or something crazy and it was black and blue. But if it wasn’t Puma, I wasn’t rockin’ it.
DX: Oh, okay. I thought you were the one rockin’ the Troop stuff before L.L.
MC Shan: Nah, I never touched Troop. Why would I say that; why would I contradict something that I’m doing?
DX: You went at LL a few times: “Beat Biter” [about using “Marley Marl Scratch” for the original version of “Rock The Bells”], all that stuff. Did y’all ever like converse and deal with those issues y’all had?
MC Shan: Me and LL is cool. We cool nowadays. But L used to try and bully me and shit. [Laughs] On some real shit, L used to try and bully me with his muscles and shit. But I wasn’t having it.
I had one show with LL and that was it, over and done. We did it up in Rochester or Syracuse, I can’t remember but it’s in that area. The night before at the Red Parrot – there’s witness to this too, I think Andre Harrell might’ve been there that night and a couple of other people – LL walks up to me and he says to me, “You better not show up in Syracuse tomorrow.” I looked at L, and then turned my back to that nigga like, “Yeah, alright, whatever.” And even then niggas thought, “Yo, this nigga’s crazy.” But I didn’t care. I didn’t give a fuck. I showed up in Syracuse and rocked L so bad he didn’t even get on stage. And I’m not saying that to try and – ‘cause everything I say it seem like people try and say I’m hatin’ on niggas or something. So I wanna clarify, I’m not hatin’ on niggas, that’s just what happened.
The word “hater” came from dudes like me who’ll talk about you and don’t give a fuck. And so the word hater was only made so niggas wouldn’t talk about ‘em. And I don’t give a fuck, because I couldn’t give a fuck about ‘em. I say fuck ‘em and up my game, Q.B. is where I’m from, nigga, what’s my name? MC Shan. I don’t care.
DX: [Laughs] You must’ve had a fun time with the Cold Chillin’/Warner Brothers publicist back then. [Laughs]
MC Shan: Oh, yeah. I mean, yo, listen, know why I really got messed up with Warner Brothers? Like I said, I was a wild boy back then. I was real wild, just straight hood. So, I was up for that part of The Fresh Prince [of Bel-Air] because I was signed to Warner Brothers where [V.P. of the Urban Division and inspiration for the show] Benny Medina was. And why I didn’t get that fuckin’ part was because I called Benny Medina a faggot. I was just wild. That’s probably why I had no juice with Warner Brothers or their backing because I was crazy like that.
I used to do stuff that you wouldn’t even dream of doing nowadays. You’d dream of doing stuff like that, but you’d know you ain’t getting your records played. [DJ] Bugsy, my pal, my buddy, Fred Buggs [at WBLS], one day he said something about me on the radio about me not wearing socks ‘cause I couldn’t afford socks or something. I called up to the radio station and said “I’m coming to fuck you up.” [Laughs] These are the things that I used to do, man. Crazy, stupid stuff that you couldn’t get away with now because you’d get banned all over the world.
DX: Do you have any regrets about that now that you’re older and wiser? Or do you just look at it as like, At least I was keeping it all the way one hundred?
MC Shan: I don’t regret nothing I did, or nothing I will do. I don’t regret nothing. Regrets are for suckas.