I was looking back at my interview archive recently, and I was amazed at how many of my favorite rappers and producers I’ve had the honor of talking with over the years. Seriously, it’s insane. So in my new Westcheddar series Five From The Archive, I’m going to dig back and highlight the stories behind some of my favorite rap songs ever, as told to me by the artists themselves—five at a time. Think of these as oral history rap mixtapes, presented in EP format. Enjoy the first batch.
1. Pete Rock & CL Smooth “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”
Pete Rock: “Troy was a close friend of the neighborhood that we grew up with since we were little. His older brother’s name was Gary. I wasn’t on the road when this happened, but they were on tour with Kid ‘n Play and Salt-N-Pepa. They were playing around throwing empty garbage cans at each other on stage.
“Troy was a playful person like that. He was at the edge of the stage and it was twenty feet high, and he slipped off the edge and fell [and died]. I don’t know how I made that beat while being depressed for such a long period of time. He was really close with everyone in the neighborhood. Mount Vernon is not that big, it’s four square miles wide and long. Everybody knew him.
“I found the record [for the sample] when I was digging with Large Professor. I made the base of the beat at my house, and I finished the rest at his house using his SP-950. Q-Tip had nothing to do with [making the beat]. I think what happened was he liked the horn riff that he heard. I had already sampled it, but I filtered it to make the bass line. The horn was already there, but he just thought it was a good idea for me to put it in there. And I put in there. I made the beat, he just suggested I put that in there.
“We used to all go digging together a lot. I used to come to Queens, and they used to come to Mount Vernon, back and forth, going record shopping together, everything.
“CL came up with the lyrics even before I came up with the beat. He didn’t have the beat [to write to]. He already had the song written. The beat made me emotional so I figured it would work. When the lyrics came together with the music, that was the match made in heaven. Thank God it matched the way it did. It was a great outcome.
“When we finished the song and mixed it, I had Charlie Brown from Leaders Of The New School in the session, and when we listened back to the record we just started crying. When I felt like that, I was like, ‘This is it.’ Deep in my heart I felt like this was gonna be something big.”
2. Fat Joe ft. Grand Puba and Diamond D “Watch The Sound”
Fat Joe: “Grand Puba was the hottest dude in the game. So we were cool. He came to the ‘Flow Joe’ video. That’s my man for years. I knew Grand Puba through the streets. See, before I was rapping, I was always around the rap game, even though I was in the streets.
“I would be at all the parties, and all the events, and I was pretty hard to miss. I was one of the few Spanish cats sitting there with jewelry on, Dapper Dan suits. It was pretty hard to miss me. I also knew Puba from Jazzy Jay, and Strong City Records, before he was on a major label when he used to fuck with all the Zulu Nation cats. So I figured we should do a song together.
“Then Diamond came up with the beat, and it had the little Jamaican sample in it. And it was an honor for me, because Diamond D was probably the hottest real hip-hop producer in the game.
“[Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop] is a classic album. I did every ad-lib on that album. He says something, and I’m like, ‘Yo, what the fuck you talkin’ about?’ And the girl’s like, ‘Yo, chill!’ Or I’m in the background going, ‘Yo, that’s that shit…’ And that shit is crazy to me, because it is such a classic album.
“To this day, when we listen to Backspin [on satellite radio] or something, and a Diamond D record comes on, I’m like, ‘Yo yo yo yo, that’s me! That’s my ad-lib right there, nigga!’ [Laughs.]
“We actually shot that video in one of the most gangster places in the Bronx. Thinking back, I don’t even know how we pulled that shit off. That’s when niggas were buying crack on line like it was the stock market. We shot that shit in the middle of that.
“It was really exciting for me, for it to be the second single I ever dropped, and to be doing something with these guys at that magnitude. It was my first album, and I think my first record I did with a feature, so to have Grand Puba and Diamond on it was really crazy. When I look back in time, and I look back at early interviews I did, I can’t believe how I was blessed to have these kings around me.”
Diamond D: “I wasn’t really [a big reggae head], but that was one of the joints I did like, the Sister Nancy joint. That was one of the beats that I think I just had, and I was playing him a couple, and it was one that he picked. Again, everyone was in and out of Jazzy Jay’s studio, so that’s where Puba and Joe go back to.
“I know Joe laid his verse first. I don’t remember if Puba did his then too, or if he came back and dropped it off. All the sessions back then were like that, you know, [everybody] smoking. Joe doesn’t smoke, but he tolerated it in his sessions. But you can tell that session had a party vibe to it.
“We shot the video in the South Bronx over by Alexander Avenue. I remember Tommy Hilfiger or his brother Andy came over to the video shoot in person in a big body 600, the top of the line Benz back then, and opened up the trunk [which was filled with clothes] and said, ‘Back up, this is all for Puba.’ He drove to the South Bronx just to bring him some clothes. It was hilarious.”
3. Gang Starr ft. Nice & Smooth “DWYCK”
DJ Premier: “Nice & Smooth did a record called ‘Down the Line,’ and they wanted to use the ‘Manifest’ sample. So we did it, and hung out with them at Power Play Studios. That’s how we met Bas Blasta, and everybody that was there that day that was on that record. So we said, ‘Let’s do one in return.’ And we needed a B-side for ‘Take it Personal,’ because doing records that weren’t on the album was a big deal back then. Public Enemy was doing it, Ultramagnetic [MCs] was doing it.
“But when we did it, we didn’t know it was gonna be such a big hit. That summer, it was running things! Daily Operation was already out, so the label was like, ‘Let’s add it onto the album and re-release it.’ We remastered it, added it onto the album, then they reneged and said, ‘We’re gonna pass on it and leave it as a B-side.’ So we were pissed because mad people were buying Daily Operation looking for ‘DWYCK.’ And it was only on 12”. People were like, ‘Fuck, I bought the album for that song.’ I was like, ‘Damn, you don’t like anything else?’ But that’s what they wanted.
“So to fix that, when this album came out, we were like, ‘Let’s make it available this time so if anyone’s ever looking for ‘DWYCK’ on any of our albums, there’s an album that has it.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s capitalize and get rich off it now.’ And where you put it is always important. I sequence everything. That’s my DJ mind.
“We made it in 1992. WC was here from L.A. And Don Barron from the Masters of Ceremony was here, because he was cool with Greg [Nice]. I remember everybody laid their verse. Guru was wasted, and at first, we were like, ‘He’s gotta say his verse over.’ Because he was just saying anything. ‘Eenie meenie miney mo.’ ‘Lemonade was a popular drink…’ ‘What the?’ He was just all over the place. We were like, ‘His verse is the weakest.’ And now when you hear it, everybody loves it!
“I’ll never forget, Smooth B kept going, ‘‘Yo Keithy E, I left my Phillie at home.’ ‘Hold on, stop it. Okay, I’m ready.’ ‘Yo Keithy E, I left my Phillie at home.’ ‘Hold up, run it again.’ ‘Yo Keithy E, I left my Phillie at home, do you have another?’ He didn’t even have the ‘I wanna get blunted my brother.’ We did probably like twenty takes of that same line, then we were like, ‘Yo, why don’t you just come back tomorrow?’ And he came back, and laid it in one take. And we were like, ‘Yo, we got a jam.’
“We didn’t even have a title at first. But ‘DWYCK’ was a thing everybody used to do, Biz Markie was very big on it. It’s like catching you with your pants down. You would mumble to somebody to get them to go, ‘What?’ So you’d go, ‘Hey, did you see that dadadada?’ And they’d go, ‘What?’ And you’d go, ‘My dwyck!’ [while you grabbed your dick]. So we just called it ‘DWYCK’ because we had no title. Back then, everyone had t-shirts that said, ‘My Diiiiiiiiiiick.’ That was the thing, so that’s how it came about. Flat out.”
4. Jay-Z “Can’t Get Wit That”
DJ Clark Kent: “That was the record he felt the best about to the point where he wanted to put it out. If you look at the logo, it’s says Jay-Z featuring DJ Clark Kent. It’s hilarious to think that’s what it was. It was like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, because we believed the DJ was important.
“I’ve got records with Jay, at least three records, where all he’s talking about is his DJ. And they’re crazy. People will never hear them, but still, that’s what it was about: us making these records.
“That was made at my house. Practically everything after a certain point was made at my house, because I had a studio at my house.
“I made a beat, that I didn’t think he would want, and he walked in and heard it and said, ‘Yo, let that play.’ He sat around, bobbed his head, walked out of the room, came back, and was like, ‘I’m ready, let’s do it.’
“At that point he wasn’t writing nothing. I don’t remember him writing since he was 15, 16. He had this notebook that had like a million rhymes in it. [Laughs.]
“It’s funny because, the way he wrote them back then, no one could have read the rhymes anyway. I don’t know if he could look back and read the rhymes. [Laughs.]
“He was saying things that people couldn’t fathom, and he looked like people couldn’t fathom. They were like, ‘He’s talking about being a millionaire. We’ve never heard of this dude, and all of a sudden he’s talking about being a millionaire?’
“With rap, it’s like people almost have to believe you. So when you’re talking about being a millionaire, they’re like, ‘Nah.’ And then, your rhymes are just so out of this world that they’re not even understanding you. So I think people just missed it.
“But when people look back at ‘Can’t Get Wit That,’ they go, ‘He was going crazy with his rhymes!’ He was spitting retarded on there. He was spitting on [Original Flavor] ‘Can I Get Open.’ He was nuts on ‘Can I Get Open.’
“We used to ride around listening to 2Pac, B.I.G., N.W.A., Ice Cube, UGK, Nas, AZ, Slick Rick, we just used to listen to whatever was happening. Driving around, in the burgundy Acura, just listening to it. His songs came from wanting to be way better than them.
“He thought, ‘From the beginning to the end, this song has to be a cohesive thought so that everybody gets it by the time it’s over.’ That’s why his songs are really, really, somewhere else.
“Back then, he was saying shit like, ‘I press more skirts than the cleaners.’ Like, who the fuck is saying that? He was saying incredible shit. And then, his two best friends, Jaz-O and Sauce Money, were insane lyricists, so he had to be good. These were the dudes that were on his neck all day.
“We were a group at one point called The Hard Pack—no homo. Me, Jay-Z, Sauce, and Jaz were The Hard Pack. And they were insane. Some of the best rhymes I ever heard came out of that stuff.
“It’s funny because ‘Can’t Get Wit That’ came out way before ‘In My Lifetime.’ And then they re-packaged it with ‘In My Lifetime.’
“That was Lil’ Shawn’s white Lexus in the video, who actually was the person who took Jay-Z up to Hot 97 and introduced him to the Program Director so he could get his songs played on the radio.
“[He was rocking the Reggie Miller jersey in the video] because he liked Reggie. And be clear, I’m in that wearing a Cleveland Indians jersey, and that was way before the jersey thing. We were just sports fanatics.
“We loved sports, we loved sneakers, we loved getting fresh, we loved music, and we loved money. That was our shit. What you see in the video was us. This is how we do, daily.”
5. Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah “Heaven & Hell”
Raekwon: “‘Heaven & Hell’ definitely is one of my favorite beats. It was something totally slow, and made me reminisce about another story. ‘Heaven & Hell,’ that was a hook that me and Cappa made up way back in the day before we were even thinking about becoming stars and we used to have our little bars that we used to write, and that happened to be in one of our songs. And I just remembered the hook for this beat. And I called it ‘Heaven & Hell’ because we wanna be in heaven but we’re living in hell.
”Heaven is something once you make it, hell is what you go through. So, I was just telling a real nigga story ‘cause shit like that really take place on the block. And I just started rhyming to the beat and I realized that the beat wasn’t hard. So I was like, ‘I still like how it sound. It sound like champagne bottles, the bar, coolin’.’ It was just cinematic to me, and I just wanted to tell a mean story.
”We just started talking about some niggas that’s getting some guns and they on they bullshit, but they scheming to rob something. This is a dude who got stupid money, but he doesn’t realize it could happen, but you’re still living in hell even though you’re in your heaven. So, me and Ghost just decided to go back and forth on it. I think I probably had like 65% of the rhyme, and me and Ghost came in and finished it off together. And we felt like just rhyming together and bouncing it off each other on some ‘slow motion’ shit would be something to excite people.
“We did the video and I was pissy drunk. If you look at the video, when I was walking in, my hat was all fucking crazy. I’m in the limo just intoxicated like, ‘Wow, I’m really doin’ this shit.’ And we just set it up like we were the richest niggas in the town, like silk shirts. Try to really go away from the hardcore shit for a second, and just show the versatility.
”So I was always the dude that initiated like, ‘Let’s come in like this, let’s get the silk shirts.’ And you know everybody else will be lookin’ at me like, ‘You sure?’ And Ghost’ll be the one to be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah lord. Yeah, we gon’ get the hats. We gon’ get the shoes.’ We felt like we was the black Frank Sinatra. Word.”
Stay tuned for Five From The Archive (Volume 2) coming soon…