A conversation with MC Shan

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Photo courtesy of MC Shan

With all due respect to Nas, Mobb Deep, and Metta World Peace, MC Shan was the man to put Queensbridge Projects on the map. Shan’s 1987 debut album, Down By Law was the first album released on Cold Chillin’ Records and introduced the rap world to the bridge with the classic song of the same name.

Shan released two more albums before severing ties with Cold Chillin’ and venturing into producing. MC Shan produced the 1992 number one hit ‘Informer’ for Reggae artist Snow, which became the biggest selling Reggae single in U.S. history.

MC Shan may have laid low lyrically in the past twenty years but his rhymes have been recited by the likes of Common, Nas, and the late J Dilla. Shan recently returned to the rap game with a new single and video called ‘Let’s Bring Hip Hop Back’.

Never one to hold his tongue MC Shan took time out of his schedule to speak to TheRealHip-Hop.com and share his opinions on Cold Chillin’ Records label head Fly Ty and producer Marley Marl, his mid-1980’s beefs with KRS-One and LL Cool J, and why we need to bring Hip-Hop back.

TRHH: Tell me about the new single, ‘Let’s Bring Hip Hop Back’.

MC Shan: It’s just something I had sitting around and I figured it was a good time to bring it out. It was time for me to put it out, so I put it out and it did what it did. It could have went left or it could have went right and it went right. I think it’s because I didn’t put out any advertisement saying I had something. I didn’t give anybody time to hate first.

TRHH: Why do you think it’s important to bring Hip-Hop back? It’s almost similar to what Nas said years ago when he said Hip-Hop was dead.

MC Shan: None of the mainstream art-form has lyricism talking about up-lifting your people. That’s what we did back in the days. You had freestyles and then you had records on your album saying go to school and be something other than a street bum. You don’t get that message nowadays. The message you get now is sell as much drugs as you want, rob, steal, and buy a Bugatti which you’ll never own in your life. They can’t even spell the car, it’s just too much. Also there is no music out there for my age group. We don’t listen to the crap that they’re spinning. That’s for my kids. My music ain’t for my kids and my kids’ music ain’t for me.

TRHH: What do you think contributed to the change that happened in Hip-Hop?

MC Shan: What contributed to it is people coming along just thinking they can rap and thinking this is easy—just pick up a microphone and say what you want to say. The internet has a lot to do with that, making everybody think they can make a record now. It’s a whole bunch of factors that factor in to that but it doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. I ain’t gotta accept it. I ain’t gotta sit back and listen to this crap that they’re doing. I want to hear some of my artists that I know and love. I’m tired of hearing the old stuff that we did. We did that already. I don’t want to hear Backspin, I want to hear some new Whodini, you know?

TRHH: Definitely. What do you say to people who say that there should be an age limit on rappers and rap is a young man’s game? I had a discussion with someone recently who said you shouldn’t be 40-years old and rapping but all of my favorite rappers are 40 like Jay-Z, Common, Nas, and Eminem.

MC Shan: Alright, well what I’m saying is Hip-Hop don’t turn off when you’re 40. And I want to see the person that said that turn 40 and talking about, “I’m too old for Hip-Hop.” That reminds me of bourgeois negroes that grow up and say, “Well I’m too good for Hip-Hop. I don’t listen to Hip-Hop anymore.” I don’t even want to bother with them. I don’t even got nothing to say to you guys, you bourgeois, bourgeois assholes! You can’t outgrow Hip-Hop especially when this is how I live. It’s how I eat, how I make money, and how I do what I do. Don’t tell me I can’t feed my kids. I’m too old to do this? Go get a job? You’re crazy.

The day I quit is when one of these lil’ young ones spit on me so bad that I say, “You know what, I give it up. I can’t rap no more. This lil’ young cat just did me dirty. I quit,” which will never happen so I’m not gonna quit. It’s because I haven’t lost my competitive edge. I’m not so comfortable and complacent with my spot in the Hip-Hop game that I can just throw my hands up and say, I’ve made my mark. That’s what a lot of these lockjaw old school cats is doing. They’re getting lockjaw and letting cats do what they want to do and say what they want to say and don’t stand up and say, “Yo, listen, this is how it’s done.” Get rid of the lockjaw. Now next question.

TRHH: [Laughs] OK. A lot of people know you for producing the Snow record ‘Informer’. How big was that record for your career?

MC Shan: That right there is what I eat off nowadays. As far as Hip-Hop is concerned I got robbed by Fly Ty Williams, Cold Chillin’s manager and producer. He robbed me  of all of my proceeds as far as Cold Chillin’ is concerned. I’m very thankful that I did something outside of my own thing so that I can eat today. I don’t have to run around looking for jobs and things like that and I still do my shows and get my Hip-Hop money. As far as my royalties, Fly Ty, I want to get that straight, Fly Ty, Tyrone Williams of Cold Chillin’, Mr. I’m Mr. Savior ain’t nothing but a thief. And he’s a bum!

TRHH: Well, I’m sure he pulled the same kind of nonsense on Biz, Kane and those guys right?

MC Shan: Well they were more protected because they had other people involved. Me and Shante, Tyrone was our manager. Biz and them had protection from other managers and stuff like that. They had barriers set up between them and Ty.

TRHH: A while ago you said that Marley Marl did a lot of sucker shit in the Juice Crew days…

MC Shan: He still do a lot of sucker shit! I still can’t mess with Marley. I have no dealings with him at all. I don’t want no dealing with him or Tyrone. I’m not going to be fake. You’re going to say things about me on the internet trying to throw me under a bus, that wasn’t the right way to come about it. Say whether I’m telling the truth or telling a lie. You never addressed that so it looks skeptical to the people. That’s why he took his videos down off of YouTube. It looks like Shan is telling some truth and all you doing is looking like a guilty man.

TRHH: I thought y’all was family though?

MC Shan: Do you have arguments with your brother? It don’t matter. It’s family through a marriage of a marriage of a marriage. It ain’t like that’s my cousin and I grew up with him and we shared the same cereal bowls in the morning. Nah, we ain’t do all that.

TRHH: So there’s never going to be a chance for you two to sit down and hash it out?

MC Shan: For what? We’re grown men. You do you, I do me. Ain’t no hashing out nothing. There is nothing to talk about. Go head about your business and I’ll go about mine. We don’t cross in the same circles. I live in Atlanta, he lives in New York. I don’t use him to deejay for my shows so there is no need. I don’t bother with fake people so I’d be just as fake to work with Marley for the money. If it was for the money I’d rather be broke than work with that man.

It’s a lot of sucker stuff going on. There’s albums of mine coming out in 2012. I’m not getting any of the money but where are they getting the masters from? When you talk to them they say they ain’t got nothing to do with it, but who got the masters? There is new remixes, where those come from? They could have only gotten them from him. You can’t tell me that you ain’t getting no bread off me in 2012, so you keep that bread and go head with that.

TRHH: Not to harp on Marley Marl, but you also said that he didn’t produce a lot of beats that he gets credit for. Didn’t you produce Rakim’s first song?

MC Shan: I was the one behind the board. Marley put it on the tape and what not, but I was on the board. At the point when Rakim came we never heard a style like his. Marley didn’t want to do his vocals so he told me to record Rakim. Every time Rakim would do a verse we would go behind the wall and snicker at him like, “What kind of shit is that?” Not knowing that that was the new shit. Marley didn’t think Ra was worthy so he asked me to record him, so I did the mix.

As far as Biz and them bringing their beats they’ll tell you their self. My records were the only records that Marley ever did from scratch. He had to because I wasn’t bringing beats and stuff. All the stuff that Kane and Polo did they brought the beats. They couldn’t put it in the sampler but they should have got their credit for doing it. They didn’t get their credit and later on in life you start thinking, man niggas is suckers! Tyrone with his “You can’t be on Cold Chillin’ unless you’re on Cold Chillin’ management,” so he can rob you of everything.  That whole thing was some shenanigans. That’s why the Juice Crew disbanded. They put a lot of stuff in our heads as young men and women. They put a lot of stuff in between us to divide us so we wouldn’t talk to each other. Later on in life you find out all the stuff that was going on and it was all sucker ploys.

TRHH: What’s your opinion of the Juice Crew movie? Will you have any involvement in that?

MC Shan: What Juice Crew movie? If they put my name in that movie they’re going to get sued. I ain’t doing nothing with that–nothing! If Tyrone or Marley got something to do with it I’m not doing nothing. You better not even put my likeness in that. The last time they tried to do that movie it went south because everybody started reaching. They had investors and investors have millions of dollars. When you throw out a couple hundred thousand and everybody comes out of the woodwork like greedy wolves, now they’re looking like, we don’t wanna work with these people. They’re not used to money.

Every time you turn around you got Ty squeezing them, “If you don’t have our money in two days we’re going to go up on the price.” So they just said fuck the movie, we ain’t doing it. It’s the same scenario every time the Juice Crew tries to do something like a tour somebody always jumps up, not none of the artists, and wants to be the head and wants more money than the rest of us. Why would you want more money when you don’t deejay for nobody? You don’t deejay for me, Kane, or Biz. So why should you have $20,000 per show? Why? You don’t do nothing. When them things come around it just messes up everything.

TRHH: We all know about the beef in the 80’s with KRS-One but the beef with LL Cool J is rarely talked about. Give us some background into what led up to ‘Beat Biter’.

MC Shan: I was on tour with LL for a while and we were doing the Ohio circuit. I was singing ‘Marley’s Scratch’ then all of a sudden L calls me to his room and says, “Listen to this new joint I got!” Me being the arrogant ass rapper that I was didn’t think of him as a threat or no other rapper at that. I was the one always talking crap at everybody else. I listened to it but I didn’t hear it. Months later I actually heard it and said hold up, that’s ‘Marley’s Scratch’ beat! He was on tour with me stealing my beat and making a new record. Back then you couldn’t say rhymes that were close to anybody’s. So I took it to another level and said, yo, you can’t even steal my beats. I went at his head. I’m one of the cats that LL never came back at because he knew I was trouble. Shan is trouble; Shan is not going to stop. We were cool, friends and the whole nine but he already knew I wasn’t going to stop. So I guess he just left it alone because I would have came back with something that would have cold just… You know what I mean?

As far as the KRS battle is concerned, I didn’t do another record about KRS because of the name we’ve been speaking about all morning long. Marley Marl didn’t want to make another record about KRS ‘cause he thought it would make him famous. He’s famous already! So I didn’t do the next record that I had prepared for him because Marley didn’t want to do it. So I’m stuck with the stigma of not coming back at KRS. It wasn’t my fault because my producer said let’s not do it. If I know what I knew now then I would have said fuck Marley and went and got another beat and did it somewhere else.  I still would have been battling KRS to this day [laughs]. It’s a lot of things in my life that conflict with Marley Marl. I’m not even dealing with that cat no more. Ain’t no more faking or being around the people and acting like we’re cool. I’m not doing that no more.

I had this problem years ago when I was doing a sound stage in Queensbridge and Ralph McDaniels said, “We got a surprise for you. We’re bringing Marley Marl up.” Nigga you just messed up my whole attitude now. They got some show coming up in December that they were trying to get Marley Marl to come up with me but he was just supposed to be deejaying for the whole set.  Now if I get ready to do ‘The Bridge’ and he comes out on my set I’m going to stop my whole set. One time I did the Paradise Theater and while I’m singing ‘The Bridge’ he’s on stage setting up his DJ set! How you doing that? That night he deejayed for KRS. Every nigga that I dissed in the rap game Marley Marl has produced them. Every one of them, from LL to KRS on down! That gets no respect from me, yo. Every nigga I dissed that talked about you too, you go and produce them. That’s some trying to be a sucker and riding dick shit. Excuse me for putting it that way.

TRHH: It’s alright. Keep it real. Nas recently sampled your voice on his new album in addition to shouting you out. How does it feel to get that kind of respect from somebody with the legacy of Nas who is also from Queensbridge?

MC Shan: It feels good. When Nas was growing up he was a little kid to me. You know how years later you find out that somebody was using you as an example? That’s flattering. To have him every other album mention my name is like, yo, my man! And Nas pays. Nas is cool because when he did that with my song he also gave me writers [credit]. Nas is feeding me when he puts that out with my name and my voice in it. He’s feeding me right now and that’s respect! Unlike a Marley Marl record, you do a record with that dude you might not ever get no bread. I know he’s going to be mad as hell because I’ve been going in on him lately. That’s the way it is, I’m not going to fake and act like everything is cool.  Acting like if there’s ever a Juice Crew something I’m going to be down with it. I’m not down with it. I’m not down!

TRHH: ‘Left Me Lonely’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. TJ Swan set it off perfectly. Was that song based on a true story?

MC Shan: Kinda sorta, but I never got the guns and put it to my head. It made for a good story. The inspiration for that was Tawana McCullough and to this day I still tell her thank you very much [laughs]. That turned out to be one of my greatest songs ever.

TRHH: Why hasn’t there been a new MC Shan album since 1990?

MC Shan: Because I was still signed with Cold Chillin’ and I wasn’t doing any music with them. After I did the Snow thing I figured out I was making money over here so why should I go mess with Tyrone and all the stealing at the label? Why don’t I just quit, go sing my little part of ‘Informer’ and while I’m getting money I’m making money. So I just said forget about it. And if you think about it if I was to do another album I was down with Cold Chillin’ one way or another. They had me signed. They had me locked. Before I do anything else with them I’d rather just not do anything. Now I’m free to roam about the cabin and do what I want without any of their input or influence. I’m straight now and if that’s what it took, that’s what it took.

TRHH: So you’re officially free from any contractual obligations to them?

MC Shan: Right, anything. Anything at all. I do want my money for these songs that they’re selling on the internet, but that’s another story. That’s got to do with that thieving ass Fly Ty. There’s a Juice Crew DVD that’s coming out that Little Daddy Shane is doing. I would not want Tyrone to be representing me in that video. He’s looking all busted. Come on, yo, fix your shirt collar, duke. Have some kind of couth with you. Get that sweaty shirt off or something. Go back and re-do it so you don’t make us all look bad.

TRHH: I didn’t know Fly Ty was still doing anything in the music business.

MC Shan: He’s not doing anything in the music business except for stealing money and putting out Shan albums every two years. You know how many Best of Shan albums or Best of Cold Chillin’ albums have been put out? It’s too many of them. And I’m not getting any bread for any of them. I don’t wish Tyrone no bad but I don’t wish him any good either. I don’t wish him any good at all—none. Not no good luck–nothing.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear on the new Shan album?

MC Shan: The new Shan album is going to be Shan doing Shan. It’s not going to be Shan trying to do Trap music. It’s going to me doing what I do, spittin’ rhymes and telling stories. The things that they’re not doing nowadays I’m going to be doing. I’m telling stories about my hood. My hood is just like your hood. I got a song that’s just like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. You got the cat that went to jail, the girl that’s on house arrest; everybody’s hood is the same. I’m just telling stories. It’s crazy.

TRHH: When can we expect to hear the album?

MC Shan: The album is coming. I’m not going to rush it and I’m not going to give it no date. You’re just going to see it all of a sudden. I learned from this last single that I put out. I’m not warning people and giving them a chance to hate on me before it comes out. You will get your haters that’ll say, “Oh it’s coming out so and so, I bet you it don’t do nothing.” So I don’t care. I’m just going to put it out like I did this first one and let it do what it do. The fans that love me and fuck with me they’re going to fuck with me. If you don’t fuck with me you ain’t gonna fuck with me. I’m not mad at you.

Download MC Shan’s new single, Let’s Bring Hip Hop Back

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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