The more that underground Hip Hop has changed over the past three decades, the more that it’s come back full circle. Hip Hop artists take lessons from the past and implement new sounds to put on top of their influences.
Black Moon is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its landmark debut Enta Da Stage. Released on October 19, 1993, the album gave a new sound to Hip Hop that was becoming increasingly grimy and nuanced in gangsta rap.
Coming straight outta Brooklyn, Black Moon’s members Buckshot, Five-Foot Accelerator, DJ Evil Dee and Mr. Walt helped bring punchy drums, airy jazz samples, Jamaican dub bass and patois to the table when acts such as Onyx, Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, and The Notorious B.I.G., were holding it down for the East Coast during the West Coast’s dominance.
Buckshot, a former backup dancer, became an MC heavily influenced by KRS-One who just wanted to be seen and heard in New York’s rap scene.
He discusses how Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad was a key player who opened the door for his entrance into the music industry. He also details how that experience made him stumble upon a chance role as an extra in House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” video in 1992.
“Hank Shocklee gave me an opportunity to be an intern for his record label called Soul, which was distributed by MCA,” Buck recalls. “We went up there to submit our demo to Soul and they didn’t have time. Hank was too busy and said come back another day and he’d listen to it another day. I said okay, and I walked into a room which was where his vice president at the time and said ‘I’m here for the job.’ She said, ‘We’re not hiring, but you can do an internship.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s the one I want,’ and she told me to start Thursday.
“So, I left and told Evil Dee, and said ‘You won’t believe what happened. I just got an internship at the label.’ From there, House of Pain was doing a video and they invited me down, and I was supposed to get music from them for the Juice soundtrack because that was the first project assignment as an intern that they put me on. So I went down to the video and I was super happy. I freeze framed the shot where they caught my eyes and my nose, like “Yo, I’m in the video!”
Black Moon members Buckshot, Five-Foot Accelerator, DJ Evil Dee and his brother/Beatminerz co-producer Mr. Walt had come to work together later that year. As they shopped their demo for a record deal and looked for concerts to perform their earliest sets. Buck claims that they had difficulty getting booked for shows, but one performance made a lasting impression on legendary New York radio DJ and former manager Chuck Chillout who was in attendance.
Therefore, Enta Da Stage was more than an appropriate title for their debut album.
“I got involved with Nervous through [DJ] Chuck Chillout because, once again, having access to the industry,” Buck says. “I met him from Maria Davis, rest in peace, she was a big promoter back then, and Jessica [Rosenblum] and Maura, they were famous promoters, too. Jessica and Maura were managing Funkmaster Flex at the time.
“Jessica was doing a show with a group called The Black Flames from way back in the days. They had this song called ‘Watching You’ and they let us open up. When we did the show for them, Chuck Chillout called us afterward and I wasn’t enthused by what had just happened, having to fight to get on the stage.” Following the performance, Buck details how Chuck Chillout got Black Moon for them signed to fledgling independent label Nervous Records.
“When Chuck called us, he called us by the name “Napsacks” because he didn’t know our names, and we turned around because we were the only ones wearing knapsacks. We grabbed his number, told us to meet him at this address and said: ‘I want to give y’all a record deal.’ We met him at that address and he said: ‘I want y’all to show this guy what y’all did last night.’ The guy was Michael Weiss of Nervous Records [founder and president]. Mike said ‘I want to sign them right now.'”
Nervous Records is the label where Buckshot met a young intern named Drew Friedman, who later became known as Dru Ha.
“I was fresh out of college through a friend of mine named Rob Stone, the founder of Fader Magazine, I had interned for him for a couple of summers,” Dru Ha says. “He called the owner of Nervous saying there’s a kid who I think will be a good fit. So, I started coming into the office and Buckshot was there at the front trying to get his music going. He would sit up front and that’s where I sat. He and I developed a friendship from those office visits.
“He delivered the single for ‘Who Got The Props’ and I started working it to radio, video, retail, and that began the early relationship with me and Buck and the group.” They began a working relationship that burgeoned their Duck Down Management arm for the group for the Black Moon. Drew and Buck became inseparable and even traded driving and rap skills in the process.
“I didn’t know I wasn’t a good rapper until I met Buckshot (laughs),” Dru Ha says. “You know what’s funny is that I taught Buck how to drive because he didn’t have his license yet, and I would let him drive my car. And he would give me some pointers on rapping. We would go at it, and he was happy because he was driving and I was happy because he was showing me rhyme flows.
“And he introduced me to Smif N Wessun along the way, I got to know those guys and started managing them. At that time, we’re all young and it becomes like a fraternal thing with common interests and goals. That’s what brought us together.”
When Black Moon began to grow a buzz in the underground circuit and college radio, one of their first television appearances was at the world famous The Apollo Theater. Black Moon was able to sway the notoriously tough crowd in their favor, and they knew if they could make a powerful impact there, they could bring their associates such as Steele from Smif N Wessun to burgeon what eventually became the Boot Camp Clik.
“Steele from Smif N Wessun had a record out and he was performing that night,” Buck explains. “He had a group called M.O.S.T., and how I met Steele was because my sister was a dancer, and she used to dance for Steele. She had a show at The Apollo with Steele. She said, ‘The dancers I had back backed out on me, can y’all substitute?’ So me and 5 [Foot Accelerator of Black Moon] said, ‘Sure.’ Steele came out and did his record, and I said, ‘If I ever get a record deal, y’all the first people that I’m bringing out.’
In early 1993, Black Moon gained a buzz on college radio and rap video show nationwide with their debut single “Who Got The Props.” The visual was directed by New York City-based Video Music Box founder and host Ralph McDaniels, which was a stark contrast from what he had just finished in filming the video for Boyz II Men’s biggest hit “End of the Road.”
“Chuck Chillout had a working relationship with Ralph, and he was shooting the Boyz II Men video ‘End of the Road,'” Buckshot says. “Before he broke down the equipment, Chuck went to him, as far as the breadth or whatever, said “I want to do the video for Black Moon,” and Ralph did it. I piggybacked the joint, and instead of breaking the equipment down, we had like four hours to do ‘Who Got The Props.'”
Its nighttime backdrop played into the group’s nocturnal persona, and their backpacks, hoodies, and Timberland boots that propelled their image. The single charted on the Billboard H0t 100, and grew much anticipation for Enta Da Stage.
Despite a history of predecessors of Black Moon such as Leaders of the New School and Grand Puba who wore backpacks in their videos, Black Moon’s popularity helped solidify term “backpacker” in the underground rap audience.
“There were always backpacks in Hip Hop,” Buckshot says. “No one was walking around without backpacks. As far as like making an every day, all day when we was around the way, when we were doing shows because we weren’t even into the game. We were young. It wasn’t about the game yet. It was just about that was our culture around the way.”
Black Moon’s second single “How Many Emcees” is what really made waves for the group beyond a one-hit wonder and cemented their legacy.
“It has its place in history,” Buckshot says. “I’m lucky to be as an artist’s artists. A lot of the top celebrities, people that came from the bottom all the way to the top, multi-millionaires, billionaires, whatever, and artists, they love my music. I always bug off that. Slick Rick telling me that ‘How Many Emcees’ is one of his favorite songs of all time. This is Slick Rick, and he keeps it in rotation on his player.
“People like that, KRS-One, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, you name ‘em. Everybody from MC Ren to Q-Tip, I’ve chilled and hung with all these dudes. And there was a time when I used to wake up out my bed and would be privy to look at Right On! magazine and meeting these dudes. For me to be embedded in the history of the game, that’s not only a blessing, that’s what it’s all about.”
Thereafter, Black Moon gained momentum with Enta Da Stage, which sold 350,000 units and became an underground rap classic.
“Moving forward with the other videos like ‘How Many Emcees’ and ‘I Gotcha Opin,’ we were more of a unit then trying to strategize, taking control, being a part of the creative process, and sitting with the director Rolando Hudson,” Dru says. “We would sit with him and tell him what we wanted. At that point, it wasn’t just me being at the video shoot, I had a purpose, a job.”
The album ushered in a definitive rugged sound that camouflage-clad Boot Camp Clik acts Smif N Wessun, Originoo Gun Clappaz, and Heltah Skeltah. Duck Down Records, which was founded by Dru Ha and Buckshot in 1995, had set its place as one of the most respected independent labels in Hip Hop during the 90s and has been for two decades since.
However, in the wake of those other acts’ successes, Black Moon was trying to not remain from obscurity in the underground rap scene that they helped trailblaze for the label and other acts that shared a similar Brooklyn hardcore sound. Plus, by the time Black Moon’s sophomore and third albums War Zone and Total Eclipse came out in 1999 and 2003, respectively, urban radio had embraced R&B-infused rap in the “Jiggy” and “Bling” eras, which didn’t fit Black Moon’s image at all.
“It was definitely difficult,” Dru Ha says about positioning and marketing Black Moon at the time. “There’s no escaping movements and we’re not immune to it. When you look at the history of Hip Hop, it doesn’t matter who. Whether it’s 50 Cent, Dipset, Master P and No Limit, Bad Boy or Loud [Records]. I think when you’re living through it, you don’t realize it as much when you look back on it.
“If too much time had gone by from 1993 to ‘98 to ‘99 then yeah, that’s just part of what happens — new sounds, waves and collectives come in. I don’t think they were any different in facing those challenges of staying relevant or staying on top.”
Dru further explains about how fighting for independence for their own label was just as hard.
“Black Moon definitely took a hit from the gap of time: the early label drama and stuff in early aspects in some fact that we wanted our independence. And we learned so much so quickly. We founded Duck Down in 1995 and did our deal with Priority in 1996.
“Maybe our focus became more on those groups like Smif N Wessun, Heltah Skeltah, and O.G.C. versus saying you got this group Black Moon and if you weren’t focused on all of that, maybe we would have put more attention on them and different things. I still don’t take it away the group’s impact or Five F-T, Evil Dee, Mr. Walt and Buck as a unit.”
Black Moon has a forthcoming album called Rise Of The Moon. Buckshot and Dru Ha believes that the album will have its place among New York’s underground resurgence over the past few years.
“It’s not possible to always be ‘the guy,'” Buckshot says. “All these new kids, it’s their time. That’s why on the new album we have this song called ‘Creep’ and I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s y’all time, but just maintain the level of respect from the young and the old, and everyone will get involved. That’s what music is about.
“Everyone is gonna always evolve because you’re gonna get older. Music is always generically based around an exciting period. But that exciting period from Hip Hop to Rock & Roll, it’s always been that age bracket from the young teenagers to the young man. I like the new Quavo solo joint that he got. I love Drake “I’m Upset.” Y’all gotta show me how to be one-track minded. Because I don’t know how to do that.”
Dru Ha agrees that Rise of the Moon and knowing their niche is what brings Black Moon’s best music, shining in your comfort zone to resonate with your audience that remains hard to the core.
“I’m a realist and work with a lot of young artists: Young M.A., Jay The Youngin, Joey Badass who to me is very reminiscent of the movement that Buckshot and Boot Camp has with himself and Pro Era. At the end of the day, it’s still a business but if you can walk away from it with the respect and accolades, that’s what made me happy to know that E, Five, Buck and Walt all came back together to make this album together with some of the old methods, that’s the best way.”