From the Vault: Kool G Rap

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Photo courtesy of Scott Church

Kool G Rap is one of the greatest emcees, ever. While Ice-T and N.W.A are credited with starting West Coast Gangsta Rap it was Kool G Rap that started the East Coast Mafioso style of Hip-Hop. Without G Rap there would never be a Jay-Z, Nas, Big Pun, Raekwon, or Ghostface.

I’ve found myself over the years quoting G Rap lyrics out of the blue just because they’re so dope like “Ready to put some work in, we’re not a lazy crew, we’ll do a job or two/But yo, your man can’t even stick me with some Crazy Glue” from 1992’s Ill Street Blues. Or, “Shoes is scuffed, ‘cause the road gets rough/But Im’ma rock it, ‘cause my pockets ain’t stuffed enough” from 1989’s Road to the Riches. Another personal favorite is from Heavy D’s 1991 song Don’t Curse where G Rap spits “I kinda got outrageous/Check it, even made a record how I’m doing all the b-i-t-c-h-e’s.”

I had the honor of speaking to Kool G Rap in 2011 when he was promoting his Riches, Royalty, and Respect album. We spoke about his lyrics, his legacy, and his time with the Juice Crew. The pleasure was all mine. G Rap is one of my favorite emcees and one of the greatest of all-time.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Riches, Royalty, and Respect.

Kool G Rap: Riches, Royalty, and Respect is just a desire that’s been around since mankind existed. It’s just my expression, not so much to place value on riches and royalty, but definitely respect. Riches are definitely a necessity in this world. We’re pretty much moving toward a situation where you’re either rich or poor. They’re trying to eliminate the middle class in all different parts of the world. This has been done in the past, that’s why I wouldn’t go all out or do anything for riches, but it’s definitely something you have to take into consideration and take seriously—acquiring wealth to live in this world that was designed for us to live in.

TRHH: The album has kind of a pimp vibe to it. Was it a conscious effort to give the album that 70’s sound?

Kool G Rap: Yeah, it pretty much was. I always wanted to do something with that vibe but it was always a battle. I got that part of me because I was born in ‘68. I was growing up during the 70’s era. I have fond memories of the style of clothes, the music, and the vibe of that time. It was always a battle of that being part of me and the era that I became a teenager in and started experiencing life in a different way. I was always expressing that other part of me but I wanted to express that 70’s vibe. It was a conscious effort and this was the time that it happened to be able to come out the way that I wanted it to.

TRHH: You’re one of the greatest story tellers in rap history. What is your writing process like? Do you write your rhymes before you hear the beat? What inspires you to write these stories?

Kool G Rap: Each one is different. There’s been stories where reality has encouraged the story like Road to the Riches and Streets of New York. Other things are just part of my creativity. I would never limit myself to being only a rapper and a lyricist, I’m a writer. I’m a writer in general and I’m not just limited to writing songs. I can write novels or motion pictures. I express that in my music. You may not have gotten G Rap in book or movie form yet, but I’m as cinematic as possible in my music. That’s where it comes from. Some things stem from reality and experiences whether it was my personal experiences, experiences of people around me, or my environment. It’s just a part of my creativity. That’s what I do, I’m a writer.

TRHH: Most people know you from the Juice Crew, talk about how you originally got down with the Juice Crew and what are your thoughts on the upcoming Juice Crew movie?

Kool G Rap: I got down with the Juice Crew by linking up with Polo. Eric B introduced me to Polo. Polo brought me to Marley’s house and we went right into a recording session. I think Polo broke the ice a few days before we got there like “Yo, I got this rapper and he’s the truth.” He prepared Marley that he was coming through with somebody that spit fire. Back in those days I was always prepared because I was always writing—I was hungry. I was loving Hip-Hop and wanting to express myself lyrically as much as possible. I wasn’t even thinking about writing for records back then, so I just had verses. I spit three or four verses on It’s A Demo, I’m not even sure [laughs]. When I wrote it, it wasn’t meant to be in song format, it just turned out to be that way–the same thing with my first single I’m Fly. After I did those first two records no one came to me and asked me to be down, I was just down with the Juice Crew. I guess cats liked what they heard and liked me as an artist so they took me under the wing. Marley definitely liked me and saw something in me. That’s pretty much how it happened.

As far as the Juice Crew movie, I know there were talks about it a few years ago and it died down. I don’t know if it was revitalized, but I haven’t heard anything about it. I know it would be historical to do a movie or a book or something. It would be ludicrous and cheating the Hip-Hop game out of a big event not to have a movie or a book on the Juice Crew—the Juice Crew was definitely a big event.

TRHH: You debuted during the golden era of Hip-Hop and there were a lot of other great emcees in your era like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D, and KRS-One. Did you have friendly competition with any of those emcees?

Kool G Rap: Oh yeah, of course. Me and Kane talked about that one time. That’s going to happen. It happened even more with me and Kane because we were label mates. It wasn’t even a conscious competition. I was trying to out-do any and everybody at that time! It wasn’t even a thing of out-doing people, you had to keep up. Coming up in an era of Kane, Rakim, Chuck D, and KRS-One you had to keep up because these dudes wasn’t playing! Nobody was slacking. These guys are phenomenal lyricists and I’m a fan of these brothers. At the same time, I inspired them just as much as they’ve inspired me. That’s how good artistry happens—it has that affect.

Big Pun had no problem saying that G Rap inspired him and look how phenomenal this dude was! Big Pun was incredible. So many artists that I’ve inspired are artists of high caliber and they’re legends. They have great bodies of work that contributed to their legendary status. So yeah, it was friendly competition, more so with me and Kane. We was spitters that came out at the same exact time. Kool G Rap wasn’t Kane’s only competition that kept him on his toes. I’m sure it was Rakim, KRS-One, and Chuck D as well. The same cats that kept me on my toes were the same cats that kept Kane on his toes and so on. It was a beautiful thing because it made us as artists produce to the best of our ability. It allowed us to make history and produce those great songs. It was a good thing for Hip-Hop.

TRHH: I was talking to Vakill today and he was telling me how you inspired him to rhyme. We’ve heard Jay-Z, Nas, Ghostface, Eminem, Black Thought, and Big Pun give you props for shaping their styles. How does it feel to get that kind of respect from top tier emcees in the game?

Kool G Rap: It’s an overwhelming honor to be acknowledged by artists as great as the names you mentioned. They have done work that impressed me and we feed off each other’s energy. When I did the record with Nas, Fast Life, off of my album 4,5,6, I know I had to come with it. Nas is an artist that I was trying to get put on, so he was like a student to me at one point. In the beginning stages you could see the potential that this cat could be catapulted out of here and he did just that. By the time I did Fast Life with him he already did Illmatic and proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. That put the pressure on me, and he might have felt the same way even though I came before him. The student can surpass the teacher at some point, so I have to be on point for a cat like Nas, Rakim, KRS-One, Kane or Big Pun. These cats are known to do it, repeatedly.

Even if people feel like an artist might not have produced things to the same abilities of their early stages in their career, they’re still a sleeping giant to me or a sleeping lion. You never want to wake up a sleeping giant because those skills never diminish. Sometimes real life plays a part in anybody’s creativity. Things that you go through in life reflect on your creativity but the actual skills never go nowhere. This is why we had that Nas Ether record [laughs]. You never want to wake up a sleeping giant. When L.L. and Moe Dee were battling people put the championship on L.L. but Moe Dee is a problem and L.L. is a problem. It brought the best out of both of them.

TRHH: A lot of people talk about The Symphony and to me that’s the greatest posse record of all-time, but I wanted to ask you about the Heavy D record, Don’t Curse. To me that’s one of the most slept-on posse records ever. There were some heavyweights on that song.

Kool G Rap: Right.

TRHH: Talk about what it was like recording that song with Heavy D, Grand Puba, Kane, Q-Tip, and Pete & CL.

Kool G Rap: That was amazing for me because I loved Brand Nubian. Kane was my label mate so I was biased—I’d choose Kane over a lot of artists. I had mad love for Heavy D. The first record that he did, Mr. Big Stuff, had me dying. I loved Heavy D so for him to reach out to me for the record was an honor. Pete Rock was amazing and I never even knew he rapped before he jumped on that record. He tore that shit up to me. The record was official. The track, the guest appearances, everybody brought their A game to the table, it was a phenomenal record and phenomenal honor being a part of it.

TRHH: On the new album you have a song with Havoc called American Nightmare. Talk about how that song came together.

Kool G Rap: Me and Alchemist are cool so we talk periodically. He sent me mad tracks. I had problems picking a track because he sent me so much heat. That track just hit me vibe wise. Like you said earlier, a lot of it leans toward the 70’s. The American Nightmare track doesn’t have a 70’s vibe but it was dirty, street, and felt gutter! I rocked with that one, knocked it out and sent it back to Alchemist to fill in the blanks. He hit me back and asked me what I thought about Hav doing a chorus. I was like “What?  Havoc? Any day, all day, and every day.” I remember it was a time when everybody was running and seeking Havoc to do choruses because his voice was so amazing. He just has a presence that pulls you in. He did the Quiet Storm chorus!

TRHH: You wrote the forward to the book How to Rap and in that forward you mentioned how you studied Grandmaster Caz, Silver Fox, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee. Talk about why it’s important to study the greats who came before you and who do you think up and coming emcees should study?

Kool G Rap: I think any lyricists or anybody with aspirations of being a lyricist. Not every rapper really cares about being lyrical right now, which is completely absurd to me. I never heard of a rapper not wanting to be creative, ‘cause that’s what lyricism is, being creative. You got cats that depend on swagger and things like that, but to me being an emcee and a rapper is a combination of all of the above.

If I was to tell somebody to study someone I’d tell them to go all the way back to Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee because you don’t want to miss out on nothing. Some people might want to go back to my era and feel like anything before that is too much old school for them. Right now, G Rap, Kane, Rakim, KRS-One, Slick Rick, Chuck D, we’re all considered old school, but we’re the best to have ever done it. Nobody is specifically holding the title down by themselves, but it’s the combination of all of us! What we brought to the table makes us the best to have ever done it because everything branched off from what we did. This is how you got to Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie, and Wu-Tang. We birthed those great artists, but if you’re studying, you should go back to what birthed us.

It’s kind of like when people try to figure out what came first, the chicken or the egg. I’m one of those people, I want to know that. What actually came first? So, if it was me I’d want to go back and find out what inspired artists like me and other artists from my era that are very much legends. What ignited their flame? I would want to absorb all of that and not miss a step. People may not know it or not, but if you go back and listen to Moe Dee and Melle Mel and really listen you’ll be shocked. You’ll be amazed. A lot of cats might write them off as old school but you’ll be surprised that you can listen to what those cats did and still be entertained to this day.

TRHH: What’s next for Kool G Rap?

Kool G Rap: I got a couple of things up in the air. I’m working on a shoe line and clothing line in conjunction with that. It’s not at the stages where I can say something is concrete. It is what I’m working on. I’ve been working on it for the past couple of years, so it’s something that I’m seriously doing. It’s just not at a level where I can blow it up and tell people to look out for it because I don’t like to just talk. By the next time we talk I’ll be able to tell you to go to this website and look at what I’m doing.

TRHH: On a personal note, I was raised on your music, so this is a big honor for me. I’ve interviewed a lot of great emcees but you’re at the top of the list. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that I appreciate you doing this interview.

Kool G Rap: Ah, no doubt, man. It’s an honor to even hear that come from you, brother. The pleasure was mine.

Purchase: Kool G Rap – Riches, Royalty, and Respect

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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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