The recent death of Queens emcee I.G. Off may not hit home with many in the Hip Hop world of 2012 but for those on the come up during the New York 90s, his death marks the passing of someone who definitely left his mark through every borough of the Big Apple.
“I think he’s an emcee that a lot of up-and-coming emcees looked up to in the mid to late ’90s,” DJ Spinna said. “He was just one of those emcees that as a producer, you wanted to give him your best work.”
Well respected and certainly an influence to those who knew him, I.G. Off exemplified the phrase “Criminally slept on” but kept moving. Most known for his role as half the duo I.G. Off & Hazadous, I.G. had been paralyzed for the last several years of his life.
HipHopDX recently spoke to collaborator and friend DJ Spinna about the Q-U emcee’s passing, how he contributed to Hip Hop, and what he himself has been up to recently.
HipHopDX: You had the recent project drop but what’s been up with Spinna recently?
DJ Spinna: I’m actually pretty thick in the Hip Hop grind again. I started a new label called Collectively. We put out a 45 release last November with Oxygen the emcee and did a limited pressing of 500 copies. Jigmastas release is in the works, probably about 80% done. Oxygen and I have an album that’s about the same, we’ve got about two more songs to do. There’s talks of a part of Polyrhythm Addicts reuniting and working on a single and taking it slow, not really talking about a full-length cause everybody’s scattered but we definitely wanna try to throw something out and actually I just finished a remix for A Masked Influence, I don’t know if you remember them but they were kind of a staple of the underground Hip Hop scene in the ’90s. They actually got back together, they had broken up and dissipated but they coming back out soon. I’ve got a track on Moonshine’s album. I’m trying to get back in the studio with Sadat X, I’ve got a lot going on. [Laughs]
DX: You just dropped Spinna vs. P&P Records and that is your newest effort. How has the reaction been on that?
DJ Spinna: Well that came as a result of Traffic [Entertainment] Distribution and a deal I had done with them maybe about five years ago and we had to settle for something else and it just came up recently, like last year, that I still haven’t got with them and I needed to do something and they had this P&P box set that they had put out that were DVDs and they wanted me to take that catalog and do a mix so I did the mix and we did double vinyl and the CDs came out in America and Japan but the P&P stuff I was familiar with a lot of it because I grew up listening to that music. I’m a ’70s baby, so Disco-Funk was definitely part of my upbringing and I had a lot of that stuff and when I started getting into deejaying, some of that stuff was a part of my playlist so I was quite familiar with the catalog but once I got the box I realized they had a lot more stuff than I thought and a lot of unfamiliar records as well cause they were pretty much a New York underground disco label that did a lot of random releases, limited releases and a lot of it really wasn’t distributed well so it was quite educational for me too.
DX: I.G. Off recently passed away and I know you were deep with him so what were some of your fondest memories you had with him?
DJ Spinna: Well I would say my biggest memory was when we released the group’s first single [“Street Serenade” b/w “This Ain’t Livin'” and “Hip Hop Til I Die”], like it was on their first EP on the Beyond Real [Recordings] label and just how much insight he had on putting songs together. We did a song called “Street Serenade” and he kind of came to me with the hook idea to use the Marvin Gaye “This ain’t livin” [lyric] from “Inner City Blues.” And another song we did, he had a Mary J. [Blige] hook and he wanted that to be the chorus. So he knew what it took to put songs together and he was just an incredible emcee, period. He was one of the best freestylers – if not the best freestyler off the top of the head like he was definitely running around in the underground circuit. I met him through [Skam2?]. He was also on the Beyond Real label family and he brought him in and they were running around together though out New York, all the underground shows that were happening at the time they were hitting the pavement and making waves. When they came for me, they had it together, they definitely knew what they wanted to do and it was great. I’ve got records that we released and I remember when it came out, it did really well and then it was kind of hard to get after a while, we didn’t press too many of those, it was kind of like a collective item, I’m sure it’s going for a pretty penny on eBay or whatever, it was kind of difficult to get after a year or so.
DX: It’s interesting that you say he’s one of the best freestylers in New York at the time knowing the caliber that was around during that era, in that location but for those who are aren’t as familiar with I.G., how would you describe his legacy?
DJ Spinna: I think he’s an emcee that a lot of up and coming emcees looked up to in the mid to late ’90s. He was a very cool guy, very laid back, very honest, very sincere and just a really humble guy too, you know not a lot of ego involved he was just a generally nice guy and I just remember that unfortunately he did have some kind of issue with his back, he had a birth defect and he had an accident in the late 2000s that pretty much left him disabled and that was very unfortunate and he was dealing with a lot of pain in the end and one of the last things he said to his mom was that he just wanted to rest so, but he was a great guy and he was really cool.
DX: What was maybe the impact he had on your career?
DJ Spinna: Well, you know our stint was brief and only spanned about two years between ’96 and ’97 but it definitely made me be more particular about the caliber of emcee that I would work with because he was definitely in the upper echelon of the roster that we had at the time. He probably had, besides the Jigmastas [Grass Roots: Lyrical Fluctuations] album, had the biggest name in the underground because he would go to all the shows and he was doing all the radio shows at the time as well in New York, freestyling, battling a lot of people so he was just one of those emcees that as a producer, you wanted to give him your best work. That’s always my thing anyway, to do my best with everybody I work with but particularly with emcees like that, it was like you want them to shine and you want to shine with them, there’s no holding back on what kinds of beats you supply, you wanna give them the top of the list so that when the record comes out both are looked at and the beats and the rhymes are stellar and I think that’s what happened with the record that we released and it’s definitely one of my favorites and it was highly regarded at the time.
DX: Going back and listening to a lot of the tracks, I realized that this wasn’t just a good “back in the day” rapper that passed away, this guy was great. Do you think maybe he was one of the best running around New York at the time?
DJ Spinna: Absolutely, all the emcees that were coming up knew who he was and I definitely wanna say that he put fear in the hearts, like if they knew I.G., they had to come with it. Off the top of the head he was vicious. He could pick any subject matter, if there was a fly on the wall he would rhyme about it. It wasn’t just like mediocre it was dope, it was off the hook, he was an “Oooh and awe” kind of emcee whether it was his one-liners, his metaphors, his wordplay, all of that.
DX: So many things have changed when it comes to putting together a record or even what a record is. Mixtapes are different, the way you put out a record, hosting a project, what are some of the main things you’ve seen change over the years as someone who has crossed through genres and has experienced multiple eras?
DJ Spinna: Oh, a lot has changed. First of all, making a record took a lot more effort because, well first because they were records, there wasn’t digital anything back then it was all physical and I come from the analog era where we were using tape machines whether it was a 24 track, two-inch tape machine or you had a home set up, that was the era I came up in, pre-ProTools so you had to have money, you had to book studio time and if you had your own setup, you had to maintain your own gear, buy gear, buy tapes all the time and it cost money to put records out. We were running a label and we had to deal with artists and back then it didn’t always pan out well and being artist ourselves and running a label is not easy and I noticed the whole thing change with the birth of the world wide web and the internet and everybody buying equipment to have a home studio setup. That’s actually one thing that started to go for the worst because there was less quality control cause everyone felt like they couldn’t make a record and once you were able to upload stuff online then it got even worse because now there’s definitely no barriers and now it’s just saturated, there’s too much information and you can’t get a grip on everything and a lot of it is wack. Even between the time we started the label in ’96 till about 2000, you really noticed it because there was a drop in retail like the things that we would order, the distributors would take less copies because they were getting records from too many people so it lessened the demand and the quality overall diminished, it is sort of like less is more even back in the early ’90s, you knew what to look forward to, you knew Nas was coming out this week, you knew [A Tribe Called Quest] was coming out this week, you knew Wu-Tang [Clan] was coming out this week, you know it was like 20 records…
DX: Right, and they wouldn’t put out another album for at least another year or two…
DJ Spinna: Right, and every year there’s a record, there’s always a single, there’s always a leak and you just can’t stay on top of it. There’s too many people and you have YouTube, you have iTunes and you’ve got all these platforms that all your music can be purchased or heard and it’s almost too much and what’s happening now, that I’m noticing is that it’s going back a little bit where quality over quantity is moving to the forefront, records is being pressed up and more people are making vinyl now, like I just found out Phonte’s [Charity Starts At Home] album is available limited edition 500 copies and stuff like that. Labels are really considering vinyl again although the demand is not what it used to be obviously but at least they know it’s viable to still sell records because there’s still a demand for it world-wide because there’s still people collecting records and only the good stuff gets pressed up because they know they can sell it so if you’re a true Hip Hop fan and you’ve been following certain artists for a long time and they artists makes good music and you can get the vinyl, collecting will never stop even if you’re a DJ and you love records, you can trust that probably you can get a phat beat by ordering a record from your favorite artist and be content. There’s a lot of 45s, a lot of labels are pressing 45s and I’m happy with that.