Ask anyone spending their teen or early adult years in Los Angeles around the early 80s about their first taste of localized Hip Hop and normally, it manages to circle back around to Uncle Jamm’s Army. Before the likes of Ice-T and N.W.A became the groundbreaking progenitors of gangster rap and synonymous with anything pertaining to rap culture, the crew had more people filling the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena than The Clippers at one time. Of course, their brand of Hip Hop took major cues from Africa Bambaataa’s electro-raps that gave birth to “Planet Rock.” Early classics like “Dial-A-Freak” and “Yes, Yes, Yes” became regional classics and even inspired some imitators. One Uncle Jamm’s Army member known for some crazy antics was Greg Broussard a.k.a. Egyptian Lover.
If he wasn’t spinning on four decks at one time, the West Coast pioneer found himself wowing crowds with live performances accompanied by his trusty Roland TR-808. Embarking on a solo career, Egyptian Lover’s cemented himself with “Egypt, Egypt.” The rest, one can say, is history. Though later releases never reached the heights of his debut single, tracks like “I Need A Freak” went further with Black Eyed Peas sampling it for their hit “My Humps.” Those missing out on a crucial moment in rap history can relive it through an anthology box set soon to be released through Stones Throw.
Spending time at historic Skip Saylor recording studio in Northridge, California,Egyptian Lover reminisces on his Uncle Jamm’s Army days, inspiring both Dr. Dre and Uncle Luke and his upcoming box set.
“Everybody I know likes more than one kind of music.”
HipHopDX: You’re at the point in your career where an anthology comes into play.
Egyptian Lover: I always wanted to do one and I never got around to doing it. I was working on 1984 a couple of years back and Peanut Butter Wolf said he’d love to do an anthology. Then he started talking about doing a box-set and was like alright. I usually do releases on my own label, but this time, I know Wolf is a big fan, knows what he’s doing and it’s not a major because they’ll eat you up. I knew Wolf and them were independent and would do it right.
DX: The relationship with you and Stones Throw goes back really far.
Egyptian Lover: I met Wolf after Arabian Prince released his greatest hits compilation through Stones Throw. Then, I did some remixes for them and have been doing shows with them ever since. Dam-Funk, J Rocc and all of them are good people. Everybody seems to be good people and I was like, I like this place.
DX: Stones Throw is probably one of the most revered labels in Hip Hop and now it’s branched out.
Egyptian Lover: To everything. I love it! What’s a label if it can’t do everything musically. Everybody I know likes more than one kind of music. Nobody just likes one type of music. They’re putting out music that’s really good. You get a bigger following when you put out music. My keyboardist over here doesn’t just play electro, but he has a rock, funk and electro albums out. Everybody who comes to my shows loves all kinds of music.
DX: Yeah, I went to your release for 1984 and art exhibit last year near the Stones Throw office and…
Egyptian Lover: It was packed, man.
DX: Mad lit.
Egyptian Lover: We thought we were going to get half as many people that actually showed up. We wanted people to walk around and see the art to experience it. We had too many DJs and everybody really came out for the DJs. Forget the art, I sold two pieces. It was fun, they got The Pyramid for “Egypt, Egypt” that just came out which is a super collector’s item. It was an advance promotion for the box set which had the same black and gold feel. Every who bought The Pyramid will love it. You gotta have one if you don’t have the other.
DX: Rap history seems to primarily focus on gangsta rap because of how popular it eventually became in regards to West Coast Hip Hop. However, to many older fans, it starts with you.
Egyptian Lover: I was listening to stuff like “Planet Rock” and I was already making mixtapes. I just went to that next step which was making a record. I didn’t think the record I eventually came out with was going to be a big record. I just wanted to make a record with my name on it so the girls could hear it. I made the record. KDAY took it and ran with it like it was a hit. They kept playing it every hour on the hour and I started getting bookings for shows. Prices started going higher and higher. I never stopped doing shows ever since then.
DX: What’s it like watching where West Coast Hip Hop started and where it eventually went?
Egyptian Lover: My view was kind of staggered. When N.W.A. started to take off, I was on the road so I didn’t get to see it take off. I heard the record when it came out and I remember telling them they should have gone to a real studio because this sounds like shit. I told them it didn’t sound professional. I told them if you wanted to be taken seriously, you have to make a professional sounding record and can’t make it on a four-track cassette like it sounds. While I was on tour and groups would go on, they would play the N.W.A. album during intermissions. I noticed that everybody was singing the words. I called Arabian Prince-like, “yall poppin out here in Louisiana and all over the place. This is great, y’all didn’t do it the way I told yall, but it had the dirty lyrics with the dirty sound so it fits.” Then it started to make sense, they were doing it on purpose. It was for a different type of crowd. Even my crowd was listening to the N.W.A. stuff. I came back home and it really started blowing up with the headlines on the news and all of that stuff. It was really cool to see. Then they all started doing solo albums. It was great. I love it.
DX: You and Arabian Prince are like down homies. It was dope watching you guys perform together last year.
Egyptian Lover: It’s in his name Arabian Prince. That’s the homie. We were at the skating rink together and this girl walked to me and said, “Egyptian Lover, who are you?” He said, Kim, before she replied, “Well you should be called Arabian Prince.” He just said, “alright, that’s my name.” She gave him the name.
Egyptian Lover Talks Dr. Dre and Luke Finding Inspiration From Him
DX: It’s crazy how people don’t give much credit to his role in N.W.A’s success.
Egyptian Lover: Arabian Prince already had a name when he linked up with N.W.A. They already knew him. He already had a record out and they knew Dr. Dre. It got on the radio because of Arabian Prince and Dr. Dre. That’s actually why radio took it seriously.
DX: Sometime after “Egypt, Egypt” made waves on radio, you started to see the rise of The World Class Wreckin’ Cru.
Egyptian Lover: The World Class Wreckin’ Cru was a dance promotion team like Uncle Jamm’s Army. But, Uncle Jamm’s Army was like the pinnacle. We filled the L.A. Sports Arena with 10,000 people and The World Class Wreckin’ Cru was doing their thing trying to get there. We made a record, so the logical thing for The World Class Wreckin’ Cru was to make a record. When I first heard the record with Dr. Dre doing the breath thing, I didn’t like it. But, people were saying that I was copying Prince and Kraftwerk and that’s a form of flattery. I saw it that way, but at least, I changed it up. I was kind of mad, but it was OK.
DX: Then Dre really came into his own as a producer years later and eventually grew into a rap icon at that.
Egyptian Lover: The producer part was just about him being a good producer. He started off as a DJ and DJs are good at being producers because they can read the crowd and know music. I know DJs can be good producers. When he started producing stuff for Snoop and all of them, I was loving it. I’m glad to see a DJ take it to that next level. He had to go through a lot of drama working with that many people and didn’t want to go through all that drama. I rather just work by myself and work with two or three groups. He was working with everybody. More power to him, but I didn’t want to deal with all them headaches. I’m in the studio where everyone smokes weed and I don’t smoke weed. I’m like I can’t babysit all these kids, I’m done. Dre did his thing and he stayed with it and had some hits. I was happy for him. Then the Beats By Dre comes out and he takes it to another level. And the next deal comes putting him on another level. He’s doing great, I’m happy for him.
DX: You ended up having a working relationship with Uncle Luke during his promoter years around that time as well.
Egyptian Lover: Yes, Uncle Luke was a promoter and he booked me for a show. I went down there and told him I wanted to do a better show tomorrow. I wanted to do a longer show. We went somewhere and rented an 808 and bed and mattress on the stage to do a live show. I think I might have rented a vocoder. The whole time, Luke’s watching me like damn, this is the shit. He fell in love with watching me make beats. The next group he had for a show was 2 Live Crew and he came up with the idea to make them bigger. He joined with them and created 2 Live Crew.
DX: They took your sexualized lyrics and really took that to a new plateau.
Egyptian Lover: Two Live Crew came to the parties and they saw me mixing Richard Pryor in songs cursing people out. They were like he doesn’t do that on records, let’s do that on records. They took it to the next level that way. I loved it, though. I don’t care if they did a zillion records or anything. If my record is selling 100,000 on my label, I’m happy. I never hated on anybody. I just watch people come up from where they were and was happy. Me personally, why would you hate on anybody.
DX: Would you call the 808 the greatest instrument of the modern era?
Egyptian Lover: There’s one right behind you.
DX: Oh shit!
Egyptian Lover: When I heard the 808, I didn’t know what it was. Then I met Africa Islam. He was cool with Afrika Bambaataa and I asked him what were the drums used on “Planet Rock.” What were these toyish sounds? Were they putting pillows in the kick-drum? They told me it was a drum machine. They weren’t expensive and had them at The Guitar Center. So, the next day, I took the bus to The Guitar Center saw the 808, one of the guys there taught me how to program the beat for “Planet Rock.” This sounded like a record already. Then I programmed another beat. I asked him how much and he told me. I only had half the money so I went back home, got the rest of the money from my mom and bought it. I took it back home, programmed it full of beats and about a week or two later, we had a dance at The Sports Arena with 10,000 people. I played the beats and people were partying like it was a record. The promoter Roger Clayton didn’t know I was playing the drum machine. Roger was like you bullshitting me, we need to make a record. I was like watch this. Then I changed the beat and did a breakdown and he went crazy. Later on, we went to the studio and did “Dial A Freak” and “Yes, Yes, Yes.” I had all these ideas in my head so I fell back a little bit. Then, I went back to the studio like the next week and made “Egypt, Egypt,” “And My Beat Goes Boom” and “What Is a D.J. If He Can’t Scratch.” I held it for six months after “Dial A Freak” came out. Six months later, we put it on KDAY and it was over.
When KDAY charted me, they charted me number one. Then other radio stations asked what was this “Egypt, Egypt” record? They would find it and play it. Eventually, all these radio stations were putting me number one. Then I would see “Egypt, Egypt” number one and Prince’s “When Doves Cry” number two. Are you serious? Radio had a lot to do with it between them, break dancers and DJs. DJs were buying double copies. I was selling 200,000 copies in San Francisco instead of 100,000 copies. Record sales were huge. I never stopped messing with the 808.
DX: How do you feel about the role it’s played in music over the years. It’s become such a standard.
Egyptian Lover: Every time I hear the 808, I fall in love with the song. I don’t care what kind of song it is. I remember hearing Phil Collins using the 808 and I was a huge Miami Vice/Phil Collins person. And, he’s a drummer. So for him to play the 808 was like a co-sign. It blew me away. I went to other drum machines to make songs, but I always went back to the 808. Even in the anthology, for the new songs, I have a song where I use a 707 and I went back to the studio and changed it to an 808. That drum machine is still killin’ it. I bring it to a party and I have the crowd singing “8 0 muthafuckin’ 8.”
Flexin Around Los Angeles In The 80s With Independent Money
DX: You were quite the flashy individual back in the day. What did your status at the time afford you with at the time?
Egyptian Lover: I had one of the first cell phones so I paid a lot of money for mine. I paid like $1,800 for mine. I was like one of the only guys riding around with a phone. I’m in Beverly Hills and guys are like I want one of those too. I had rims on a Benz. I went to Beverly Hills Motor Accessories. I had kits and all of that in my Benz. The inside of the car had different gauges. My car was hooked up. I was rolling around flossing. I roll by N.W.A, they’re in Suzuki Samurais and I’m like ‘sup.’ I’m like y’all got a big record and I got a big car. It was only me so I didn’t have to split the money. Eventually, they went on to do better and better.
DX: The studio we’re in now is known for putting out some legendary records. Can you point to what’s changed over the years in terms of recording records now?
Egyptian Lover: Most studios today, I don’t call them studios. What we’re in now is a studio.
DX: A recording space for some people are a closet space.
Egyptian Lover: I guess you could call that a studio, but not a professional recording studio. I have worked in many of them. I went to Germany and someone asked me to come to the studio. I packed up all my stuff and realized he had a little room studio. It sounded pretty good. At that time, I couldn’t down home studios because it sounded good. I guess it depends on if you take your time and EQ it right. It’s your ear, not the gear. It’s easier to work here than at home. Ear plus gear, you got a hit all year.
DX: Last year’s 1984 project was your first in nine years. Any lessons learned from that project in your approach to music in the modern age?
Egyptian Lover: We did the album and finished it in around three-and-a-half years. Then the hard drive crashed. We started all over and figured we could redo the songs. Every song we did sounded better than the original ones. It took another three-and-a-half years to finish those. Then we got those and started to mix them down at different studios including Skip Saylor. I was the first rapper that Skip ever put in the studio. Me and Skip go way back. I brought other rappers to Skip. If you go see all those gold and platinum plaques in there, it was me stepping my foot in the door and everybody copied me. Where did he record it at? Let’s go there. Where did he mix and master his stuff at? Let’s go there. Where did he print his records at? Let’s go there.
DX: Yeah, I noticed the plaques for DJ Quik’s Quik Is The Name and Safe + Sound.
Egyptian Lover: I opened the door for all those dudes. DJ Quik was a huge fan. He asked how my stuff came out some clean and I told him, Skip Saylor. They got this SSL board that’s nice. Back in the day, they had mixing boards without these things called gates. You use to and you use to have to hire people to run them. It would quiet the sound down because the 808 is analog and noisy. You would hear a hiss behind the beat. Gates would take out the hiss after the beat. Every sound had to rent a gate. Then they came out with this mixing board that had built in gates. Every single channel you see has a gate on it. You can quiet down everything. My music was so loud and clean. Thirty years later, it still sounds good like a record coming out now. They have programs with automatic gates and it still doesn’t sound that clean because it doesn’t have any punch. I’m still using the original steps which is why it sounds so good.
DX: And that’s the same approach to 1985 as well?
Egyptian Lover: I was touring around that time 1984 came out and hanging with family. I was in the studio all the time. I had like 40 or so songs that I cut to twelve for 1984. Now I got twelve more going on the B-side for 1985. Every song on the album will have a twelve inch. Every B-side will have a new single. This will make 1985 all the B-sides from 1984. I didn’t care about the response. I did it for me. They can either take it or leave it. I sold out of the whole first run so I guess they like it.