Kwame first burst onto the scene in 1989 with his album The Boy Genius, and has now evolved into a sought-after producer whose recent credits include the song “L.O.V.E.” for Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama album, “Round Up” on Lady May’s May Day, “10 Million Stars” on LL Cool J’s forthcoming album, and a yet untitled track featuring Cam’ron on K-Slay’s soon to be released Street Sweepers CD.
The formerly polka dotted wonder (who released his second album A Day in the Life in 1990) has long known that the secret to success in the biz is to never do just one thing. From re-mixes, to ghostwriting, to educating children about music – Kwame has done it all, and continues to do it well. He owes this music business savvy in large part to the solid musical foundation he was raised on. Stevie Wonder and Lionel Hampton were just a couple of his family’s frequent visitors, with Stevie giving a four year old Kwame a harmonica, and Lionel giving Kwame his first drum set at the age of nine.
Today, Kwame can be found in his Harlem studio making music for his production company, Got Beats?, and has plans to open a street music conservatory geared to the needs of today’s up and coming hip-hop hopefuls. Let’s go Behind the Scenes with Kwame, and find out more about the man with the master plan.
Kwame, you’re known as a rapper, but how’d you start producing?
I started producing under this production company through Hurby Luv Bug called The Invisibles. The first record I produced was for this female rapper named Antionette, called “Baby Make it Boom”…I was like fifteen years old. I [also] used to work with Hurby writing rhymes or producing songs for Salt-N-Pepa and Kid ‘n Play. Then I went and produced my first album. I gave it to Hurby to see what his opinion was and I passed the demo off to several people but Hurby ended up landing me a deal on Atlantic Records. Then I would do production here and there, like I did a re-mix for the En Vogue song “Lies” from their first album. I wrote the raps for “Poison” for Bell Biv Devoe. I didn’t even get credit for that. I got credit, but it was an anonymous thing cause I had to go through my record label to get permission to do that.
Can you tell me about some of your soundtrack work?
I did two songs on the soundtrack for the HBO movie Dancing in September, and that soundtrack got nominated for an Emmy. From there I’ve done a couple of films one called Drum Line from 20th Century Fox starring Nick Cannon (from Nickelodeon), and another movie called Ghetto Dog about pit bull fighting. I’m also working on some situations with Vin Diesel he’s my cousin. He used to be in my videos and everything so we’re trying to work on something right now.
Why did you stop recording as a rapper?
Well, I didn’t really stop recording; I just needed to redirect my energy for the purpose of longevity. A lot of people had big hits back in the days, but how are they doing now? There’s a lot of artists crying broke [because] they didn’t have plan B C D, E. At an early age I set up my plans and knew I was gonna do this, and then I’m gonna venture into that.
How did your family come to have so many famous friends?
Well my grandfather, Kenneth Drew, started one of the first black newspapers called the New York Voice. Also, he was heavy in the jazz scene in the forties. My grandmother, Corian Drew, used to be one of those traveling jazz singers. That’s how they met, and he just had relationships with people through his jazz and publicity connections. I really appreciate the upbringing that I had. The importance of my culture, the contributions of my people my mother really embedded that in my head and now as an adult I really walk with it.
Is there anyone you really want to work with?
At the top of my list is Prince. I just want to bring some of that funk back into the Prince that I grew up on, but make it for today also. I would love to work with Mary again, and as far as rappers the top four would be Jay-Z, Ludacris, Freeway and Pharaohe Monch. Pharaohe Monch and I went to high school together so I would like to do something with him.
Lastly, how did you feel about that line in Biggie’s song Unbelievable where he’s like, “Your life is played out like Kwame and them fuckin polka dots?”
It didn’t bother me. It only bothered me when I was in a club talking to this girl, man, they played the record and the whole club just looked at me and it was just smashing my rap! Me and Big had words about it and it was cool. Rappers put lines in their records to raise an eyebrow – I just happened to be caught in that bullet. At the same time I look at it like if I wasn’t influential, I wouldn’t be remembered and I would never be mentioned. And it’s weird cause you’ll have kids that are into Biggie but never know who Kwame was but by him saying that, they’re finding out who Kwame is. I could literally make a record just sampling rappers saying my name. There’s many rappers that said my name in a good or bad light. The Big Tymers had something funny about how I’m at this radio station and I’m giving away my old polka dot shirts and I’m signing them. I’ve never met those dudes before so its good that I was able to touch so many different people around the world and I’m mentioned in things. It’s when they don’t talk about you, that’s when you have a problem.