A Conversation with Positive K

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Photo courtesy of Shots by Watt

Photo courtesy of Shots by Watt

In the late 80s and early 90s Positive K made show stealing appearances on songs by MC Lyte and Brand Nubian. His voice, his energy, and his lyrics made his album one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of its time. In late 1992 Positive K dropped his debut album, The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills that was catapulted by the number one rap single “I Got a Man.”

After releasing a few more singles Positive K moved behind the scenes in the business of rap. He later dabbled in acting and standup comedy, but his first love, Hip-Hop came calling back. Positive K has released a few singles in recent years and most recently partnered up with Greg Nice of Nice & Smooth for the single” Make it Happen.”

Positive K chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his start in rap, what it was like to have a Top 40 hit, his friendship with the legendary Big Daddy Kane, and his upcoming album with Greg Nice, The Great Minds.

TRHH: I first heard of you from the song “I’m Not Havin’ It” with MC Lyte. I remember seeing you perform on the tour when The D.O.C. had his accident with Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, and MC Lyte.

Positive K: The “I Go to Work” tour.

TRHH: Okay, I was like 13 years old, man. During MC Lyte’s set you came out and the people went nuts. What was that time like when you were affiliated with First Priority and on that tour?

Positive K: Yes. It was a weird experience. I was cool with all the rappers except for everybody in my crew. I did a lot of writing for First Priority. I looked at them like a family to me, but I don’t think they looked at me as family. I was like the outsider. I always got the second position. I didn’t get all the work or the promotion for my record or whatever it was. It was always like that. That’s one of the reasons I left the company. It’s so crazy you’re talking about the I Go to Work tour because I used to open up the show with the songs Step Up Front and A Good Combination and then I’d come back out and perform with MC Lyte. Like you said the people were going nuts.

It was so crazy because after about 2-3 shows the owner of the label came to me and he was like, “We’re not going to be able to keep you on the road any longer,” and I’m like, “What the hell are you talking about? People are loving me!” They couldn’t afford to have me on the road. They gave me some lame excuse or whatever it was. I had brought a DJ and I had a bodyguard. The DJ and the bodyguard stayed but they were telling me to pack my bag and leave. At that time me and Big Daddy Kane were really tight and he was like, “Yo man, let me holler at you. That situation is not exactly what that situation is supposed to be.” He said, “I know what it is. You’re getting a lot of love right now and they don’t want you to outshine what’s going on.” They were sending me home for nothing. Kane said, “Look man, if you don’t wanna go home get on the bus, man.” Big Daddy Kane was one of the main headliners so he called the head of the tour Cara Lewis and she’s like, “If Positive wants to stay I’ll let him open up.”

They thought I went home so the next day I came back out and seen everybody and they were like, “What are you doing here?!” Everybody’s jaw just dropped. I went back out, opened up again, and tore it down. After that tour ended that’s when I left First Priority because I knew it wasn’t fair business for me to be there. They didn’t have my best interests at heart. It wasn’t the artists, it wasn’t MC Lyte, it was just the company that was doing their little slight of the hand. I left the company and Big Daddy Kane produced some big records for me. One of the songs that was first produced with Kane was “I Got a Man.” I had a reference to it but I really laid the song down with Big Daddy Kane where I got it perfected to what I wanted to do. That was the story with the I Go to Work tour with D.O.C., Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, MC Lyte, and myself. It was a dope tour, it was great. It was a fun time and a wonderful experience. I never had so much fun on a tour since then. That was a real, real fun tour.

TRHH: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1989 and I remember them announcing that The D.O.C. wouldn’t be there because he was in an accident. Who knew at that time that he would never regain his voice?

Positive K: That was some type of freak of nature accident. Come on? You gotta be kidding me. He could have broken a leg, an arm or something, but your voice? That was insane. It’s so crazy because I just ran into Kool Moe Dee. We was all down in Atlanta, Doug E Fresh was there, Kane, we were all talking about the I Go to Work tour because that’s when I got my first big tour experience.

TRHH: You go back even further than I’m Not Havin’ It, what was your initial introduction to making records in Hip-Hop?

Positive K: I moved from the Bronx to Queens, New York. I was always rhyming from the Bronx. I was a young kid with “Lime to the lemon, lemon to the lime” basic rhymes trying to write stuff. I ran into a dude called Queens’ number 1 solo sensation, his name was Sweety G. I was like his record boy. He would do big parties all over Queens and I was like his protégé. You carry the records, wear the sweatshirts that say “Sweety G Productions”—you was down with the crew. He knew I was rhyming and he said, “You’re good, you got something.” He used to always cut songs and make me rhyme in front of people. I was small, short, and spittin’ these rhymes coming from the Bronx. Queens dudes was like, “This is weird! This dude is kinda nice!” We cut some songs and he introduced me to Mike & Dave who were members of the Crash Crew. They were known for doing big parties, production, and putting out independent records. He wanted to do a compilation album with some new rappers and I was one of them.

The album was called Fast Money and I’ll never forget it. There was a guy wearing Cazal’s holding a gold chain. It was black with gold trim and the picture was like a sketch. I was the first song on side A and my song was called “Getting’ Paid.” Another artist got his first start on that record and his name was Rob Base and his song was called “DJ Interview.” I’ll never forget it. That was the first record I ever made. I remember sitting up listening to Mr. Magic for I don’t know how long waiting for that record to be played. For a month and a half I didn’t miss a minute, a second or nothing! I thought he wasn’t going to play my record and all of a sudden I heard it come on and I was like, “Oh my God!” My heart just dropped. Time stood still for a minute. It was incredible. I used to carry that record with me everywhere I went. It was crazy, it felt good, and it changed my life meeting Mike & Dave and Sweety G. He’s doing a lot of great things right now with the Book Bank Foundation and his philanthropy stuff. He’s a good guy and I talk to him all the time. If I have a situation I’m going through and I need to talk to somebody I call him and he still helps me out. He’s a good friend and I have a good relationship right now with a guy who helped me find my way in music.

TRHH: How did you link up with First Priority?

Positive K: After I made the record with Mike & Dave it wasn’t a deal to make records, it was just that one song, so I was looking for a manager. I was calling around to every record label in the world. I called Def Jam. I went to every label that put out rap records. That was at a time when you could call a record company and actually get somebody on the phone. I had a list of numbers I used to call every week and speak to somebody and asked if they’d listen to my stuff yet. I spoke to a lady by the name of Heidi Smith at Def Jam, this is the legendary Heidi Smith who helped build the company, but I didn’t know it then. I used to call and aggravate her and she said, “You know what, I want to introduce you to somebody. Take this number down. His name is Lumumba Carson, give him a call.”

I gave him a call and met him at Restoration Mall in Brooklyn. He listened to some of the stuff I had and said, “You need some songs. We gotta get you a producer.” So he introduced me to this guy named Daddy-O who had this group that he’d just put together called Stetsasonic and they were working on some stuff. He took me to the studio with this guy in Brooklyn and we recorded a song called “Quarter Gram Pam” which was my first on First Priority. Daddy-O was dope in the studio. He was incredible, he played, he knew how to deejay, scratch, all of that. That was my first lesson on how to really rhyme in the studio. I was rhyming how I rhymed in the street holding the microphone. I didn’t know how to work in the studio at that time. Daddy-O taught me how to back up off the mic, how to set your songs up, how to break it down, and how to get your concepts together.

Lumumba Carson introduced me to a guy named Nat Robinson who was starting this new label called First Priority. He had his son and a young lady by the name of MC Lyte. We sat, we talked, he heard the new stuff I had and he loved it. Bam! I signed the deal. That was my introduction to First Priority. What you don’t know which is so interesting is Lumumba Carson was the son of the activist Sonny Carson. I was his first artist he ever managed and he was my second manager. He was probably one of the guys that was most influential to me as far as navigating through the business. Lumumba Carson taught me how to be knowledgeable about the record business, you guys know him now as Professor X from X Clan — God bless his soul. He’s a very important person to me and I think about him on a regular basis. He helped me navigate through the whole thing and brought me to the forefront of the music business and meeting of the who’s who in the game.

TRHH: I know Professor X as Professor X. Somebody recently said that he was really big in running the clubs in New York. He was a promoter or something, right?

Positive K: Yeah, him and Paradise Gray who is also from X Clan. They ran the Latin Quarters. Paradise was a manager at Latin Quarters and Lumumba was the go between for a lot of groups to come in from BDP to Stetsasonic to Biz Markie to King Sun to Just-Ice, he did it all. He brought everybody into the club. He was very big in the club scene from the Underground, Roseland, all of that. That’s how I started doing shows, matter of fact that’s how I got good at shows. He started sticking me out there without no record. He said, “If you can perform and tear it down without records when you get one you’re going to be incredible.” He used to stick me in the middle of a show with KRS-One, Stetsasonic, Masters of Ceremony, and Ultramagnetic. It was crazy.

Somebody just sent me a picture with Scott La Rock and all of us in the Latin Quarters, which I think is a very rare picture because I don’t have any pictures with Scott La Rock – God bless his soul. Lumumba was very big in the game and his father was a very big activist. The movie The Education of Sonny Carson was very pivotal in the black community, especially in the Brooklyn area. I was the first person he ever managed and then he managed King Sun, then he managed Just-Ice and we were all God’s. We were all God Body so it was incredible. He had knowledge of self and he was a deep brother. Everything about him was spiritual. He was named Lumumba after Patrice Lumumba. His family was very deep, his mother was a very sweet woman. I remember eating her food many times in Brooklyn. We had a lot of good times. I truly and sincerely miss him, I really do.

TRHH: He shouldn’t be forgotten.

Positive K: Never, never! Not with his accomplishments in the game.

TRHH: Did you have any idea how big “I Got a Man” would become? There are phrases from that song that are still used today. It was huge. You said Kane had something to do with that record?

Positive K: It was a lot of producers on that record. I had a reference of the song from Slippin’ into Darkness by WAR. It was looped up. I just had my rhymes down and the hook. I played it for Kane and he said, “That’s dope, let’s do that over.” We did it over to a song called Razor Blade and that’s when I completed the whole record. Kane was the first one to put it together, then I started tweaking it. Kane is the kind of person that once he does it he’s not going to go back and mess with it again. There were things I didn’t like about it and he said, “It’s dope right there.” I said, “Nah” and he said, “Well you do what you gotta do with it then.” During that process there was a song called Nightshift that I put out independently. Everybody thought I was crazy to put out a song independently. I was probably one of the first rappers in New York City to put out a record independent after Russell Simmons.

The record went through the ceiling and I got my deal with Island Records. Then they heard the rough draft of I Got a Man and they went crazy. Nightshift was making noise and I sold 60,000 copies of it independently. They said, “You got a deal. We wanna sign you.” and the rest was history from there. Did I know it was going to be that kind of record? I knew it was going to be that kind of record because I mixed that song 9 times! I’m talking 9 times I mixed that record, man! I’m talking major mixes. I hired engineers, blocked out the studio, and I was in there for 2 or 3 days. I did that 9 time so to get that record to where it was like, “That’s it right there!” I knew everybody was going to sing it. I knew it in my soul. Everybody was tired and saying, “This is it. It’s banging!” nah that’s not it. Every second, every minute, something happens in that song. That’s how I wanted it to be. With the blessings of the man upstairs everything turned out right for me. I’m here 20 some odd years later still performing it like it was yesterday.

TRHH: Who was the female voice on that record?

Positive K: Everybody puts rumors out but the bottom line is that’s going to be released in my book [laughs]. When my book comes out I’ll let everybody know who it was. Everybody said it was Shante, they said it was a girl Keisha from Brooklyn, they said it was Lyte, but I’ll release it when my book comes out.

TRHH: I know Big Daddy Kane is your man and you’ve worked together in the past. When I spoke to him he said he’d never make another album because people just want to hear the old stuff. Why is it important to you to continue to make new music?

Positive K: I spoke to Kane about that many times, too. I wanted Kane to do some new stuff with me and he doesn’t want to do new stuff right now. He wants to work on his legacy and what he’s done. Big Daddy Kane is my brother and my all-time favorite. He’s helped me so much that I don’t think I would be who I am right about now. That dude is so incredible. I’ve never seen anybody work the way he works. He goes into the studio and does a song just like that. He’s really gifted and really, really talented. Performing, his charisma, his aura, and his discography is so crazy. He’s done so much and made this game change so much that I think he feels he’s done all he came to do with this game right now. If he chooses not to make another record I don’t think anybody would be mad at him. He brought me into the game, he brought Jay-Z into the game, he brought Sauce Money into the game, and he helped with little Shyheim. Biggie is influenced because of Kane and being around that close cypher of all of us. The man has done it. It’s like James Brown, what do you want him to do? He’s done it all, movies TV shows, I mean, come on. He took rap to the forefront of keeping it rugged and commercialized. A lot of cats couldn’t do that. You couldn’t get on the radio, on Soul Train or TV shows. He has done it.

The guy broke the mold. For him to say he’s concentrating on his legacy and making sure the story is told right and people look at him in the right light after he leaves the planet, why mess with that? That’s like Jordan leaving at the prime of the game. He’s beat ‘em all. It’s like Floyd Mayweather, he beat everybody that he can beat, he did the best he could do, he got in everybody’s face, he never ran from nobody, he never ducked nobody, what is there left for him to prove? It’s just working on your legacy, and I respect him for it. That’s what he wants to do and I respect him. I’m happy with what he’s done. I think the man is incredible. I think he’s a monument not just to Hip-Hop, but to music, period. He taught us how to bring singers in and nobody was doing that. There was an album that he was heavily criticized for, for it having an R&B feel to it and that was Biggie Smalls’ biggest thing. If it wasn’t for Kane making that step Biggie wouldn’t have had some of the songs that he had. Kane plowed the road and paved the way for a lot of dudes to take chances. And there wasn’t no more chances to take because Kane already did it.

TRHH: You have a new single with Greg Nice called “Make it Happen”, how did you two get together to make that joint?

Positive K: We’re friends 25, almost 30 years. Another group that Kane helped out a lot was Nice & Smooth. Kane had an apartment on Parsons boulevard. We used to all sit up there and drink 40’s. G Rap lived like four apartments down. We were all there; Nice & Smooth, Scoob and Scrap, G Rap, Freddie Foxxx, Shirt Kings, and myself. We hung out together and we never stopped. I’d see Greg and he’d say, “My man is in the house,” and I’d jump on stage and tear it down. I’d see him some place and say, “My man Greg Nice is in the building,” and he’d come on stage and tear it down. He always had a respect for me and I have respect for him. He’s a monster on stage. I do my thing also. I don’t wanna brag but I do a very, very great show.

We just decided to do something so we did Make it Happen. He produced that song and we recorded it. After that we decided to do an album. Right about now we have a group called The Great Minds because great minds do what? Think alike. Greg Nice and I have this group called The Great Minds and the album is self-entitled The Great Minds. It’ll be out in a couple of weeks. Make it Happen was something I did before we did the album so I decided to let it go now so we can get a little warmed up before the album comes. The album is incredible. I enjoy it. I dig it. We got some great produces on it – DJ Scratch, Louie “Phat Kat” Vega, Bink Harrell, we got Vance Wright — Slick Rick’s old DJ on there, Greg produced some stuff, the great Easy Mo Bee produced two songs on there, which are bananas! The album is really sick.

TRHH: You mentioned Greg Nice performing, I saw Nice & Smooth perform and I think they did 2-3 songs and tore it down for an hour! I’ve seen Doug E Fresh do that before, too. What is it about the golden era cats that their performances are on such a great level and how did that change?

Positive K: Yeah, yeah, yeah, incredible. Simplicity, man. We performed when we didn’t have records. The same thing Lumumba told me. I used to perform and rhyme off break beats. I used to set things up and do little routines to make the crowd do this and that. I used to tear Latin Quarters down without a record. People used to tell me, “When you get a record you’re gonna be a problem.” That’s how it was for all of us. We didn’t have records. If you did have a record you only had one, so you had to be more of an entertainer than anything. We learned in the clubs. We learned on stage. A lot of these guys haven’t learned on stage.

We made records while we were on stage. Greg Nice was a beat boxer for T La Rock before he even did Nice & Smooth. A lot of people like us performed before we had records so when we had records that was easy then because everybody knew your records. That’s why it was at such a high level. It changed so drastically because everybody just concentrates on records right now. When you see somebody right now there is no stage presence, they don’t sound anything like the record, they look so uncomfortable it makes you uncomfortable to watch it! That’s where the difference is.

TRHH: You released the Back to the Old School project and there was a leak of your First Priority album…

Positive K: That’s a bootleg album somebody released. It was like lost tapes that were put out. I had nothing really to do with that. It’s like a free download you can get. It was songs that had samples on them that could never be cleared. They were laying around in the studio, somebody got their hands on them, and put them out. That’s all that was. I had nothing to do with that.

TRHH: Why has there never been a proper follow up to The Skills Day Pay Da Bills?

Positive K: Let me tell you something, man I’m still working right now. It was so huge and so much that I was really burned out with the game. I evolved over more into the music business. I had two RUSH Associated labels, I had a deal with PayDay/Polygram where I signed Red Bandit and we did the Nine Dog MC record. I’m not sure if you remember that but we Biggie on there, Puba, Snagglepuss, Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard, it was like nine guys rhyming forever – it was a great record. I turned into a promotion company which was Creative Control Promotions. I had a studio and everybody came through from Fat Joe to some of Wu-Tang.

We went to the record promotions thing, which was really big. I take pride in being the guy to break Outkast in New York City. I took it to Funkmaster Flex and he didn’t want to play the record but he did. The first time Outkast was ever seen was in my studio and my office. I morphed into the business and things got so crazy I got very, very burned out. I decided to take a break from the business and say I’m done. Everything I did from day one was a struggle, man. I was going through problems with Polygram, also. I just got tired of struggling and said I would come back to it when I had more passion and more love for it. I did shows, moved to California and did a bunch of new things. I’m back here now. This is what it is. I’m feeling good. I fell out of love with it for a minute, but I’m back in love with her again and I think she loves me back!

TRHH: Will there be a new Positive K album?

Positive K: You better believe it, baby. You better believe it. I’m halfway done with it now. We just had to get the Great Minds album out of the way. There is a Positive K album coming right now, believe that. This is going to be a very, very exciting year. If life is long enough for us to see it’s going to be a wonderful year in 2016 and a great 2017! I can promise you that.

Purchase: Positive K – Make it Happen

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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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