A Conversation with Big Daddy Kane

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Photo courtesy of Big Daddy Kane

Photo courtesy of Big Daddy Kane

The term “legend” gets thrown around an awful lot these days, especially in Hip-Hop. Few artists actually leave an impact on the culture strong enough to deserve that title. Big Daddy Kane is one of the chosen few that has earned the title of “legend”.

A premier lyricist from day one, Kane managed to integrate battle rap, consciousness, storytelling, and love songs into one perfect package. During a time when LL Cool J was the most popular rap artist, Rakim was the most respected lyricist, and gangsta rap was emerging from the West Coast, Big Daddy Kane was at the top of the heap in Hip-Hop.

For my money Kane is one of the top 3 emcees of all-time and that’s saying a lot. He’s influenced the likes of Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G., Common, Nas, Black Thought, and Ghostface Killah among others who have gone on to influence a generation of their own.

Kane is preparing to tour Europe this spring with dates in Frankfurt, Stockholm, London, and Vienna among other cities.

Big Daddy Kane spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his storied career, his 2014 European tour, his influence on the culture of Hip-Hop, and his various upcoming projects.

TRHH: Let’s start from the first album, Long Live the Kane. What were your expectations going into that album?

Big Daddy Kane: Just hoping that people recognize my lyrical skills and look at me as the dopest emcee out at that time. That’s what the whole objective was.

TRHH: I remember seeing you on LL’s Nitro tour and you kind of stole show alongside guys like LL and Slick Rick. Were there any rivalries with those guys who were your contemporaries back then?

Big Daddy Kane: Everybody always wanted me and Rakim to battle. If I did have any rivalries I guess it would probably be him.

TRHH: Did you view it that way at the time or in hindsight?

Big Daddy Kane: Nah. Me and Eric B were close friends. We still are close friends.

TRHH: I always thought you and Rakim might have been cool because you shared the Nation of Gods and Earths and had similar styles, but y’all never hung out like that huh?

Big Daddy Kane: Nah, we never hung. We just really started recently being around each other.

TRHH: Was there any pressure to top the first album going into It’s a Big Daddy Thing?

Big Daddy Kane: Not at all because by the time the second album came I had seen more. With Long Live the Kane I only knew a bunch of local stuff – what I had seen around New York, Philly, or places I had been with Biz [Markie]. By the time I was making my second album I had toured the world. I’d been all over the U.S., London, and Amsterdam.

TRHH: That album cemented you as the top guy in 1989. What was the ride like being number one with that album?

Big Daddy Kane: ’89 was a beautiful year. We covered a lot of bases. We covered East Coast Hip-Hop, West Coast Hip-Hop, the men, the women, the adults, teenagers, and the kids. It was beautiful. So many doors opened after that album. I ended up doing songs with Patti LaBelle, Barry White, and Quincy Jones. It opened doors for me to actually work with legends.

TRHH: And Dolemite!

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, Dolemite.

TRHH: On Taste of Chocolate you had a song called ‘Mr. Pitiful’ that chronicled what you had gone through to that point your career. I found it to be extremely honest for that time. Did you ever have any apprehension about recording that song?

Big Daddy Kane: No, not at all. This is what was on my mind and I wanted people to know exactly what my life was really like. That was just from the heart – direct.

TRHH: Another direct song was ‘The Vapors’. I interviewed Rhymefest some years ago and he told me that The Vapors was an inspirational song and I never looked at it that way. I thought about it and yeah, it is motivational. Take me through the process of writing The Vapors.

Big Daddy Kane: That’s the moral of the song; you can achieve your goals. Biz had this whole concept of people catching the vapors. It all started about a joke he was making about a girl who went to high school with me and now that we was doing shows she followed me around the mall asking me to take her to Latin Quarters. Biz was walking behind her constantly saying, “She caught the vapors, she caught the vapors.” He told me about the idea for the song and he wanted to talk about people catching the vapors. People that was frontin’ at first and acting funny and all of a sudden they wanna be in your corner and be down with you. I remembered [TJ] Swan telling me a story about how he worked for UPS and how chicks wanted to front then, and I remember when Cool V was working for a record store in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I was basically taking real life stories and showing how it was and how it changed.

TRHH: You were a ghostwriter before they called it ghost writing. What’s your writing process like in general? Do you write to the beat or write whenever a rhyme comes to you?

Big Daddy Kane: Both. Sometimes I’ll get a slick idea and just start jotting it down and going with it. It might be something that I have on stash until I find the right track to go with it. Sometimes if I’m in the studio and somebody is playing a beat I’ll sit and write to the beat.

TRHH: What a lot of people don’t know is you produced a lot of your own records. How did you make that transition from Marley Marl on the first album to making your own beats?

Big Daddy Kane: What a lot of people really don’t know is on the first album that was mainly me with help from Biz on certain songs like ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’’. Stuff like ‘Raw’, and ‘Long Live the Kane’, them joints was me I just didn’t get the credit. It was nothing new. What was really going on was Marley was mainly engineering a lot of those sessions. He did do ‘I’ll Take You There’ and ‘The Day You’re Mine’.

TRHH: Shan did tell me that. He said his album was the only one that Marley really produced.

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah.

TRHH: On ‘Show and Prove’ you had an up-and-coming Jay-Z and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, before they dropped solo albums. Both men will be loved in Hip-Hop forever, what did you see in them to put them on your album in 1994?

Big Daddy Kane: At that point in time we were trying to shop Jay-Z to get him a deal. He was an artist I was working with at the time. With Ol’ Dirty, me and Wu-Tang did a show together at Newark Symphony Hall and after the show I told my people, “I wanna meet that Ol’ Dirty Bastard dude and the little kid.” I went to their dressing room and they came to a party in Queens with me and hung out that night — ever since we were cool. Ol’ Dirty used to come out to Queens and spend the night at my crib a whole lot. Shyheim, I took him on the road with me on the Budweiser Superfest. He was like fifteen years old, too young to be on a tour sponsored by a beer company [laughs].

TRHH: Chuck D said that Looks Like A Job For… is one of the best Hip-Hop albums of all-time. I think it’s definitely underrated, but it’s not one of those that people mention when they talk about Kane. Do you have a favorite Big Daddy Kane album?

Big Daddy Kane: Oh yeah, It’s a Big Daddy Thing, my second one.

TRHH: Why is that your favorite?

Big Daddy Kane: I just think that it’s one of those complete tight albums. That’s difficult to do when you’ve got so many songs. I believe that there is 16 or 17 songs on there. It’s kind of hard to listen to that many songs from the same person. I think we pulled it off by the different directions we went with that album. There’s a lot of conscious stuff, a lot of gutter stuff, and something for the ladies. It was just a well-rounded album – and the production too.

TRHH: Why did you decide to put the live version of ‘Wrath of Kane’ on the album?

Big Daddy Kane: I thought it would be interesting. I think about the live of version of ‘Let’s Get It On’ by Marvin Gaye from his album when he hit that note “please” and you hear all the chicks screaming and losing their mind. Or the live version of Teddy Pendergrass from the Coast to Coast album where he screamed, “Turn ‘em off!” and you hear girls in the crowd scream, “Turn ‘em off!” The reaction from the crowd, for fans to really experience that like, “Yo, that’s how I was at the show!”

TRHH: Yeah, I feel like I’m at the Apollo when I listen to it. DJ Premier produced ‘Show and Prove’ and some other songs that you’ve done. There’s talk about a Kane/Primo full-length album. Can you give us an update on the status of that project?

Big Daddy Kane: I don’t know. Right now there is so much other stuff going on that it’s hard to focus on that right now. It’s definitely something that I would love to do. Premier is real busy too. If I’m correct, I think he’s getting ready to do some stuff with Nas. If our schedules can permit and you give us the time to really sit, yeah, I would love to.

TRHH: Why was Veteranz’ Day the last Kane album that we’ve heard?

Big Daddy Kane: [Laughs] When we were doing Veteranz’ Day it was the type of thing where at that point I wasn’t really focused and I let people talk me into going and recording an album. I personally think Veteranz’ Day is better than Looks Like A Job For if you ask me. I put a lot of time and effort into that. The people that I was dealing with label wise made it a situation where I was gonna end up catching a charge. I’m getting too told to have to do 10-15 years so I’m good. I just left it alone. We were performing all over the world so I didn’t need to do nothing new. Everybody wanted to hear my catalog. They’re content with that, then so am I.

TRHH: I interviewed DMC and he said after Raising Hell they didn’t have to do nothing else. But if they had we never would have had ‘Down with the King’ or ‘Run’s House’. It was so much more after that to me. But I understand being at the pinnacle.

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah. I’m cool because since then I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the ‘Next Up’ cut with UGK, the ‘Brooklyn’ song with Joell Ortiz, ‘Don’t Touch Me’ with Busta Rhymes. I’ve done a lot of work with other artists doing feature appearances so you still get to hear new stuff. So, I’m cool.

TRHH: Yeah. When I see you perform you stick to the classics, but the last time I saw you, you pulled out the Big L joint, ‘Platinum Plus’. That was a nice surprise. I’m a hardcore Kane fan so I wanna hear the album cuts, but I know you gotta give the people what they want.

Big Daddy Kane: Depending on where we’re at. Whenever I do European tours we do ‘Another Victory’, ‘Young, Gifted, & Black’, ‘It’s Hard Being the Kane’, and I even do the D&D joint ‘Hot Shit’ that I did with Guru and Sadat X. We dig deep in Europe because it’s an audience that appreciates the whole catalog. Sometimes you’re in front of an audience that wanna hear the hits so you give them what they want so they don’t get bored.

TRHH: Tell me about Las Supper.

Big Daddy Kane: That’s my group and basically what we do is combine 60s and 70s soul music with 80s Hip-Hop and do it over live instrumentation.

TRHH: Are you still going out on the road with them?

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, we just did a West Coast run in Oakland and L.A. We have dates coming up in May after I finish this European tour.

TRHH: Which one of your albums would you go back and change?

Big Daddy Kane: Probably Taste of Chocolate.

TRHH: Really?

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, because Taste of Chocolate was a time when I was a little upset with Warner Bros. I was upset and was saying to myself, “This is album number three and I only owe them five, so let me just rush through this.” Really I was saying, “I’m a big fan of Barry White so let me work with him. I’m a big fan of Dolemite, let me work with him. Barbara Weathers from Atlantic Starr is fine as hell, let me work with her.” I was making like an autograph book really or a stamp collection. I wasn’t really focused on giving the people what they want. I think there are some nice songs on there. ‘Mr. Pitiful’ is my second favorite song I’ve ever made. There are other nice songs like ‘Dance with the Devil’ and ‘It’s Hard Being the Kane’, but had I been focused it would have been a whole lot more solid — tighter. I had people saying they wanted to work with me like Q-Tip and I’m like, “Ok, what’s up? You’re not going to be in the studio this week? Ok, never mind.” I’d just blow it off so I could hurry up and get the album out so I can move on to album number four.

TRHH: Doesn’t the business of music really mess up the art?

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, sometimes. Especially during that time period when the majority of the record executives and A&R’s were fresh off of working a Prince record or Ronald Isley and then they’re trying to predict what Hip-Hop song is going to work and they don’t know. At the time Hip-Hop was new to those people because they had never worked a Hip-Hop song. You try to explain to them that the first single needs to be something street – you gotta keep the streets on your side. But they’re like, “No, this song is more radio. This is what we need to go with!” You have those types of arguments or it’s like, “I have this dude and he’s willing to shoot a video for this particular song for just $10,000,” but they wanna spend $100,000 for the more R&B radio-friendly song. You deal with stuff like that and you get frustrated and make you not wanna work with these people. You wanna please the fans, but you wanna please the fans at another label.

TRHH: Going back to Taste of Chocolate, ‘Who Am I’ was another important record. The first verse you spit is one of the most important and underrated rap verses ever to me. “I was born a black man from the motherland/Speaking a language today most people don’t understand,” man, that was incredible! You were talking about us — black people in America. I appreciate you for that one.

Big Daddy Kane: Absolutely, absolutely. Well thank you, I appreciate it. I definitely love that song and I loved working with Gamilah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. She was such a sweetheart. Just being in the studio with the daughter of Malcolm X was so motivational. It was incredible. That alone had me touched. It was very inspirational.

TRHH: You said ‘Mr. Pitiful’ is your second favorite song, but what’s your first?

Big Daddy Kane:Set it Off’.

TRHH: Why is that your favorite?

Big Daddy Kane: It’s that song that just always gives me energy. It might be a night where I ain’t get enough sleep, I’m tired, or arthritis is killing my back and as soon as we get to that song everything is gone. I don’t feel no pain, I’m not tired no more, I’m ready to go! That song just gets me amped! That’s my “go” button.

TRHH: On that song you said, “I could sneeze, sniffle, or cough/E-e-even if I stutter im’ma still come off.” Big Pun did a similar rhyme where he said, “Even if I stuttered I would still sh-sh-shit on you.” You heard that rhyme, right?

Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, yeah, the John Blaze song.

TRHH: Did you feel like that was paying homage to you?

Big Daddy Kane: Absolutely. Matter of fact, that’s where I met Pun, at the video shoot for ‘John Blaze’. We came on [Fat] Joe’s tour bus and it was the funniest thing in the world. Pun was like, “Oh shit it’s Big Daddy Kane! Yo ma , go get the kids!” [Laughs] It was hilarious. I was like, wow.

TRHH: There is a whole generation of emcees that revere you. I spoke to a 23-year old kid out of Chicago named Giftz and he said Jay-Z inspired him. He said, “People always say they like Rakim and Ghostface but I don’t listen to those people, I listen to Jay-Z.” I said, “Well you know Jay-Z is kind of like an offshoot of Big Daddy Kane,” and he was like, “What? I’ve never heard that!” He said he was at a radio station and the people told him he rapped like a Big Daddy Kane and he said I’ve never heard a Kane song. I told him to go and listen. It’s available.

Big Daddy Kane: You know that’s the way it is with this generation. I think that’s the reason why Hip-Hop is so stuck because this new generation is not really studying their predecessors. I grew up a student of Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee, and Melle Mel. Your following generation, Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z they grew up as students of Rakim, KRS-One, and myself. Afterwards you had Eminem and Ludacris who were students of them. I think that after Ludacris, Kanye, Lil’ Wayne, and Eminem I don’t think there has really been any new top artists that studied their roots. That’s why now someone is hot for 3-4 months and then gone. We lose our history. It’s hard enough to get a kid to stay in school and stay focused. Even those that listen to music every day only care about what’s poppin’ right then at the moment.

Radio plays a song about thirty times a day so it’s embedded in your head so you’re focused on what’s on and poppin’. Even if they do play something from the past you don’t really respect it as a great song because when they get ready to play it they say, “Back in the days, 1988,” so as a youth you feel like, “Man, this is something for my damn parents to listen to. I don’t wanna hear no old stuff.” That’s sad because in country music Willie Nelson is a legend. In pop music Madonna is a legend. In R&B music Patti LaBelle is a legend. In reggae Bob Marley is a legend. In Hip-Hop Big Daddy Kane is old school. It’s the way it’s taught to the youth. It’s taught to the youth like, “That’s some old stuff, this is what’s poppin’.” So nobody really takes the time to do their history. The youth feels like listening to something old is like doing what your parents do – it ain’t cool.

TRHH: How do you combat that though? I saw somebody recently say 50 Cent was old. 50 came out ten years ago! That’s old?

Big Daddy Kane: You can hear that on the radio. Like I said, go to one of these major stations and they will say stuff like, “Back in the days, 2006”.

TRHH: [Laughs] I’m a Chicago guy and Common is my favorite emcee. He really pays homage to you. He always says you’re his favorite emcee and you can hear the influence in his music. What does that mean to you when somebody like Common says Big Daddy Kane is his favorite emcee?

Big Daddy Kane: That’s my man. That to me is what this is all about. When somebody tells me, “The Source magazine had you in the top 5 emcees,” I’m like, “Ok, that’s cool.” The other four may not be who I consider dope emcees. If you got me with somebody who is there because they sold a whole bunch of records, or they’re popular, or a multimillionaire then I don’t really know if you know what really makes an emcee an emcee. Or somebody telling me, “Rolling Stone had ‘Ain’t No Half Stepping’ as one of the top 50 rap songs of all-time,” and I look at the list of songs I don’t really respect their judgment either. But you know when somebody on the street says, “You’re the reason I started rapping,” or “I always thought you was the dopest emcee,” or “Yo, you know you top three,” and then they say something like me, KRS, and Rakim or Me, Biggie, and G Rap, that’s the stuff that I love to hear. That’s what means something to me.

This was never something I did to sell a bunch of records or become rich from doing. I’m someone that actually loves Hip-Hop. I love it so much I’m someone that tried to open the audiences mind to all the different forms of Hip-Hop. When you look back at Cold Crush and Fantastic these were Hip-Hop pioneers who did singing routines at parties. When you look back to what everybody rhymed off of, ‘Good Times’, ‘Got to be Real’, these are disco records. Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ is techno music. I tried to open people’s eyes like, nah, it doesn’t have to always be a gutter beat because Hip-Hop musically has no origin. All it got to be is the break. It could be a break from a pop record or a rock record. ‘Big Beat’, ‘Walk this Way’, those are rock records. I’ve always tried to open the audiences mind to new things because of my love for Hip-Hop.

TRHH: To me you’re top 3 alongside Rakim and KRS. There are so many guys you can mention like LL, Slick Rick, G Rap, Ice Cube, Scarface, Nas, and Jay. One thing I can say about you that’s different from the other top tier emcees is you’re definitely the most versatile emcee. Just listening to you talk I realized nobody had the rough shit, the stage show, and the shit for the girls like you did.

Big Daddy Kane: Like I said, that’s my love for Hip-Hop. I know that there are chicks at the party. I know that people love to dance. I don’t know about now, but back then people loved to dance. I want to be entertaining. I don’t want you to come to my show and it looks like the album sounds. I want you to feel like you left with something extra like, “Yo, these dudes was dancing, jumping over your head, flipping and all types of stuff! Then he did some ill freestyle about such and such, yo, it was crazy!” That’s what I want you to leave feeling like.

TRHH: What’s up for Kane in 2014?

Big Daddy Kane: Right now we have a European tour coming up. We’re creating a TV show. At the present moment I’m the narrator for a new show on Centric called ‘Being’. So far they’ve shown Boris Kodjoe, Al Sharpton, and Wendy Williams.

TRHH: I’ve said this to a couple of people like Chuck D and Willie D from the Geto Boys, but you guys raised me. In my formative years I was listening to ‘Young, Gifted, and Black’ with Farrakhan on the record. That stuff made me into the man that I am. I feel bad for the kids today because I don’t know who that Chuck D, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane is to give kids those messages. But it changed my life and I just wanted to say thank you for doing the music that you did.

Big Daddy Kane: [Laughs] That’s what’s up, man. Thank you, brother. I appreciate it, man.

See Big Daddy Kane live in Europe:

04/23/2014 – Frankfurt @ Zoom

04/26/2014 – Basel @ Sud

04/27/2014 – Hague @  Paard

04/29/2014 – Stockholm @ Fasching

04/30/2014 – Oslo @ Bla

05/01/2014 – London @ Jazz Cafe

05/02/2014 – London @ Jazz Cafe

05/07/2014 – Copenhagen @ Loppen

05/10/2014 – Winterthur @ Albani

05/13/2014 – Prague @ Lucerna

05/14/2014 – Vienna @ WUK

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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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