MC Shan’s “The Bridge” single is widely regarded as the record that inspired the so-called “Bridge Wars,” a 1980s feud between the then-up-and-coming KRS-One‘s Boogie Down Productions and Marley Marl and Mr. Magic’s Juice Crew.
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, MC Shan spoke not about the infamous rivalry that resulted from the record, but the song’s message. Paying special attention to the last verse of his song, the Down By Law rapper explained what inspired him to create the music he made.
“Things around me,” MC Shan says during an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “Just the things that you see growing up in the ghetto. ‘Dead dreams, bought and sold/ You got a try and receive your goal/ However you do it, however you may/ Don’t ever listen to what nobody say.’ You know what I’m saying? If you listen to it, it’s normal everyday life. Things that go on in the hood go on everywhere. It’s like, people try and pull you down all over the place…”
Apart from his own neighborhood serving as inspiration, he also attributed lines in the verse such as, “You should reach for your goals ’cause I’m reaching for mine,” to his time on tour with Roxanne Shante.
“It was a lesson that I learned when I got out of Queensbridge,” he said. “Between the time that ‘The Bridge’ came out, I might have been stuck in that same mind-frame. But in between, when ‘The Bridge’ came out, when ‘Marley [Marl] Scratch’ came out, when Roxanne Shante first came out and I was on tour with her and every week I was hitting a different city and different town, a different state, different country, a different this. That expanded my mind where I come back and I’m doing a Queensbridge song, that my brain can actually tune in and focus on something like that, ‘Dead dreams are bought and sold.’ ‘Cause I went outside of the box and seen other things and found that there’s other cultures and other people, like-minded, like you, outside of the six blocks that we grew up in known as Queensbridge. Where a lot of my friends, they wouldn’t even travel beyond the next projects or across the bridge to Manhattan only unless they had to, so that six blocks was they world. There are some people that are still in that six blocks that I grew up with. Not trying to say derogatory things, but sometimes you have to move on and learn other things and expand or your just going to…You keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results.”
MC Shan Likens Public Enemy To Malcolm X
MC Shan went on to discuss the importance of a message in Rap in general, and how that has changed.
“Social commentary was a big thing back then,” said Shan. “Giving a message in the music, letting out plight be heard and things like that. Music was our way to get our message to the world, what was going on in the hood because before that, there was no outlets or media that really exposed what was going on in the hood. But when Hip Hop came about, it gave us a voice to express ourselves and express ourselves musically, creatively and we used it to our best advantages. Like, Public Enemy, bringing social consciousness to full blast on a record just the same way that Malcolm X did back in the ’60s.
“…That’s what our thing was, we was rebels at whatever we did,” MC Shan continues. “Social commentary is not wanted nowadays. Anytime you try and teach somebody something, they don’t want to understand. They don’t want to listen, especially with the generation that thinks that Hip Hop belongs to them now. They are the worst. They don’t respect they mothers, let alone respect their friends, respect their family. Let alone respect their neighbors. These are the same ones talking about, ‘I’m going to go kill a mothafucka,’ and guess who he just shot? His man that lived across the street from him that grew up with him from Day 1. There’s no love, no compassion…But nowadays, it’s no respect for no one, anything. Period.”
MC Shan connects the lack of messages and positivity in modern music with radio programming and the styles of Rap that have become popular recently.
“That’s where that ratchet shit comes in,” MC Shan says. “Nowadays, it’s all about popping molly, sell as much drugs as you can. But that’s all got to do with the overpowers. The people that are in control that make these things able to happen. Can’t blame the little guy because the guy with the money is the one that says what’s going on the air and what’s not going on the air.”
MC Shan Praises Melle Mel
The music business environment was different when MC Shan recorded “The Bridge” in the mid-1980s. Rather than aiming for radio play, Shan says he was trying to match the material of one of his personal heroes and a pioneer of socially-conscious Rap, Melle Mel.
“If you would make that comparison of it being sort of like a Melle Mel type of thing, you are 100% right,” MC Shan says. “Melle Mel was my idol because Mel was on to something different with his rhymes. His was more wordy. Mel had the skills that–he put it down and that’s why I listened to ‘The Message,’ all of that. Anybody will tell you. If you look back at articles, you always hear me say that Mel was one of my idols that I looked up to. So if there is a comparison to it, whether I did consciously or sub-consciously, if you took it as something that was taken out of a Melle Mel play, then that’s what it is.”
MC Shan also said that Melle Mel’s verse last verse on “The Message” is particularly potent.
“Do you see how intricately woven that is?” Shan says. “That you would not understand that Mel was one of my idols. My shit was, ‘Dead dreams, bought and sold.’ Mel’s shit was, ‘All the number book takers, thugs, pimps, big money makers.’ You see that…Difference in style, but do you see how Mel killed me on that? Why do you think Mel was my idol? I had to work my way up to a skill level that I can even, not say compete with Mel but even be spoken in the same sentence with that man.”
Shan also praised Melle Mel for the imagery he was able to infuse into his rhymes.
“Something about lyrics that I can sit and listen to and clothes my eyes and vividly see it,” he says. “Everything that Mel said in that line. Those were the terms of the day. You knew what he meant when he said, ‘ aytag / Walk around like an undercover fag.’ You knew. Yo, he talking about you being locked up on C-76 and you getting punked. So all of that right there just rolled out of your head as a visual picture as he said it…Although you can visually picture both, mine is more like a cartoon compared to a Steven Spielberg.”
Shan is working on a new solo album which he says will be titled Fuck What They Talk About. He also has two songs out, “Every Body Wanna Be A Big Star Drive A Big Car!” which is on YouTube and iTunes, and “Let’s Bring Hip-Hop Back.”