Grandmaster Melle Mel doesn’t bill himself as a comedic personality, but when he’s paired up with fellow Bronx legend Lord Finesse, he sure lights up like one. Humorous, heartfelt, humanizing. Those words accurately describe Lord Finesse and Melle Mel’s responses to Miss Info’s questions at the Sonos “Tales from the Bronx” in-store Q&A.
Read below for a few of the questions, responses and quotes that stuck with me.
Describe the parties you attended before DJ Kool Herc began throwing his own jams?
Before Herc, most of our parties would be all guys in the party . No girls was there ! You could go to Herc’s parties like ” Damn!” He was the first one in Hip- Hop with the total package in the party. – Mel
What’s one of the most special things about the Bronx?
One of the most special things about the Bronx is all the original Doo-Wop and Salsa groups came from the same area of the Bronx that me and Lord Finesse are from – Morrisania. A lot of talent came from the Bronx. ((“Must be something in the water,” Miss info responded.)) Yes, but these days there’s too many people that want ‘more,’ but don’t appreciate what they got! – Mel
Talk about growing up in the Bronx, and what Hip-Hop meant to you then.
[People ask] why do I dress like this. I dress like this because when I was in the Hood we ate CHICKEN FEET AND CHICKEN BACKS. Hip-Hop was my one opportunity to be somebody and I took it. I may not have made it to the money spot but Hip-Hop is all around the world now. We won. These days there are many people who want ‘more,’ but don’t appreciate what they have.
Back then, how did you feel about the song The Message?
Ed Fletcher wrote the main part of the song. I’ll be honest, I didn’t wanna do The Message at first because we was rapping about partying! We didn’t believe in the song. Only Sylvia Robinson believed in the song, and at the end of the day, you gonna cave to what a woman says. (Laughter)
One night we were at a huge party. This was around the time the song Planet Rock was hot. Sylvia was gonna play The Message. I was nervous so I stood in a corner off to the side! They was playing Planet Rock, when suddenly they took it off and threw on The Message. Everyone in the dance froze at first, then the reaction was instant. It worked!
She made the right record at the right time. Like Cardi B. – It may not be the best record but it’s the right record at the right time. The song changed Hip-Hop, and changed my whole career. It was the first record that actually said something. – Mel
Finesse on DITC forming as a group
It wasn’t like we were aiming to put a group together. It was just organic. We was all solo artist s trying to form a group. So putting DITC together… was difficult.
How’d you meet Big L.?
At a music conference.. someone came up to me and said this guy wanna rap for you and says he’s so good that he’ll only rap for you once. And if you hate it – he’ll never bother you again. I thought, well shit… I gotta hear this guy.
Do you remember any names from the music conference where you met Big L?
Oh man… The host was Serch… the DJ was Biz Mark. Um, you had RSO with young Benzino…
What should be the driving force when artists hit the studio to make music?
I think with hip hop, to make it fun it gotta be organic. Anytime you look at something and say I gotta do the same thing as the other guy–you’re saying you’re happy with being number two. Because the original is already out there.
On artists complaining about their position
You just a copy so don’t be doing that [imitating whatever is hot], then complain that you’re not hailed as one of the greatest—you were #2 from jump!
Describe what lyricism meant to you at that time?
What people don’t understand is we went from Cold Crush to Melle Mel to Rakim. The progressive bar was set so high I was like… I gotta be good! These dudes pushed me!
MISS INFO: “Alexa, play Lord Finesse, Funky technician.”
ALEXA: “Now Playing funky technician by Lord Finesse and Mike Smooth “
And with that , Craig G’s immortalized voice blared through the speakers on the hook.
As I watched the crowd of listeners applaud these two cultural architects, I thought about how much it means to me, a woman with some BX roots, to see people from the Bronx speaking honestly about the challenges they endured, the foundation they built, and strides they have made in this imperfect but beautiful thing called Hip-Hop and in this one life we have to live.
For the first time ever, producer and emcee Pete Rock performed live with a jazz band. Aptly named Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers, the band’s set was a part of New York City’s Winter Jazzfest, a marathon music festival The New York Times described as designed to “encourage discovery” of new groups and sounds. I was very eager to hear the female saxophone player that Pete Rock was raving about on his instagram…
Pictured above: Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers – Maurice Brown (Trumpet) Lakicia Benjamin (Sax), Bigyuki (Keys), Mono Neon (Bass), Anu Sun (Percussion), Marcus Machado (Guitar), Daru Jones (Drums). Follow them on social.
Attending this concert felt like witnessing a historic moment for Hip-Hop. There was an urgency to my need to attend, an urgency underscored by our loss of iconic producers, emcees and other vanguards of the culture.
Pictured above: Maurice “Mo Betta” Brown (Trumpet)
These losses have shaken me, but I’ve found multiple lessons therein. One of those lessons involves not assuming that I can just “see someone another day” for another day is not promised. For these reasons and more, I made my way to Bowery Ballroom, despite the cold.
Watch the video mashup of a few of my favorite moments from the band who say they plan to do even more work together in the future.
As the band jammed, and guest emcee Smoke Dza crooned smoothly over the music, I look out at the crowd and was struck by the amount of lovers I saw. There were so many couples in attendance, they were wrapped in each-others arms, swaying and dancing together. There were groups of friends, and even strangers making new brief, joyful connections with the simple exchange of an excited glance and a smile.
Renee from Zhané was in attendance. At first, I didn’t know it was her! She had on a big, warm hat, and puffy jacket with a hood pulled over it. She was filled with energy as she danced in front of me. When she went live on social media, she spun in a slow circle, giving her followers a full view of the crowd. That’s when I was sure it was her in the legendary flesh.
As I waited for my friend after the show, I noticed Renee encouraged various artists in the band to see if there ways she could help them further their careers by making a few strategic introductions. She was doing what I want to do more of as a way to honor Combat Jack’s memory. Spread even more love, practice more collective economics, operate from a mindset of abundance, listen to my intuition, and be of service to others by connecting them to opportunities where I can. These are things I do, but can always do more of.
I tapped Renee and introduced myself. We had a candid conversation about New York’s arts and culture scene (endangered by gentrification), and supporting the growth of our Hip-Hop architects as they explore new avenues for their talent. I felt encouraged by her intense desire to see all of us help each other succeed.
When I noticed and introduced myself to Shara, (Pete’s manager for years), she greeted me with warmth. “Chevon? Wait, Chevonmedia, right?”
I nodded yes.
“I know you. You do good work,” she said smiling.
I smiled right back.
I admire many women in Hip-Hop, but the ones behind the scenes are some of the most inspiring, unsung heroes I look up to. It feels good when one of them recognizes my efforts. Salute to all the awesome women behind the scenes. And salute to Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers band, who put on a show that so many awesome women were delighted to attend.
My freelance communications work for the filmmaker Victorious de Costa involved bringing attention to the the Indiegogo fundraising campaign he launched for his film ‘Digging For Weldon Irvine‘. I booked him on interviews and today I’m sharing a bit about my favorite interview, which was on The Laura Coates Show.
‘Digging for Weldon Irvine’ is a feature length documentary, currently in production, about the life and influence of the enigmatic, highly sampled American composer, Weldon Irvine.
A Hampton alum, Weldon Irvine wrote the lyrics to ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, and was the bandleader for jazz singer Nina Simone. He was also a mentor to many hip-hop artists, including Q-Tip and Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Bars about Weldon can be heard in What’s Beef, if you listen.
A reminder of how little some things have changed, Weldon’s last major project before his passing was ‘The Price of Freedom’, a compilation featuring hip-hop, jazz, and R&B artists in response to the police shooting of Amadou Diallo.
Weldon’s own brilliant life ended abruptly when he shot himself in front of Nassau Coliseum in New York on April 9, 2002.
Director Victorious de Costa was in the midst of fundraising to finish off the balance of the film when he hired me to boost visibility of the campaign. One of the interviews I booked him for was in Washington, DC, on The Laura Coates show. Laura is a big Jazz fan who was eager to hear more about ‘Digging for Weldon Irvine.’
Listeners learned about the film that day, had an opportunity to donate, and speak with the director. Some callers even reached out behind the scenes with personal stories of their relationship to the composer, some of which may be included in the final cut.The fundraising video for the film features interview clips with Weldon’s family, DJ Spinna, and more. Victorious, an award-winning filmmaker and Sundance Institute member, has funded much of the film out of pocket. Still want to donate? Have questions about the film? Contact the director here. Have a great day and contact me if you want to discuss your need for communications consulting.