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.
On a late night in New York City this week, Nas introduced his Mass Appeal Records signee, Ezri at a listening event for the young emcee’s new EP ‘Be right back’.
In an already packed room (with a line of fans outside) the twenty one year-old Cleveland native played his new EP and told us a little bit about himself.
A few years ago, Ezri’s mom really wanted him to go to college. He didn’t want to – but he went anyway. It was better than running the streets of Cleveland, a city Ezri described as dangerous place to step out your front door.
He enrolled in Kent State University for fashion design but came back sooner than expected. Fashion studies surprised him. He thought he would draw some fly shit, get it made and rock it.
“It turned out I was sewing skirts at 4am, and waking up at 7am to listen to lectures about FABRIC,” Ezri says, laughing. “I respect anybody who goes to school for fashion because it takes dedication.”
Ezri complained extensively to his mother, who agreed he could withdraw. He returned home inspired to solely pursue his music career.
“I decided I’m gonna treat this like school,” Ezri told the packed crowd at his Mass Appeal Records event. “Instead of essays I’m gonna write lyrics.”
Ezri’s mom was with it because she saw how seriously he was taking the work of developing himself as a hip hop artist.
“Hold up, let’s get moms on FaceTime, someone yelled out.
Just like that, one of Ezri’s crew members raised a cell phone high in the air, yelling that’s right clap it up for moms! As he panned the phone’s camera around the room, the applauding crowd caught a glimpse of Ezri’s mother; a cancer survivor whose endless support for her son is clearly one of his inspirations.
“I do plan on finishing my degree because I only have 2 years left he says.
Every track he played had production that caught the ear. Some tracks made you feel like you could rise to any challenge. Others made heads nod as they tipped the contents of 1800 tequila cups down their throats.
The music has a message. The message comes enveloped in a flow that seems mature for a 21 year old who directs his own videos, but boasts the musicality that makes for a singable song. The metaphors come quick and they aren’t obvious, so listen carefully the second time (because like the roomful of people, you’ll likely purely vibe to it the first time).
So why’s the album called Be Right Back? As Ezri explains it: Leaving for college when he didn’t want to prompted a “be right back” to all the homies he had to temporarily leave behind. Withdrawal from college meant another be right back (because Ezri intends to return and finish a degree in the future).
Finally, leaving Cleveland to sign with Mass Appeal Records and live in New York precipitated yet another farewell, this time to his mom, his dad (who made it to New York for the listening), and his siblings.
Wherever young Ezri may roam, his friends and loved ones are never forgotten. In fact at times it seems he’s chasing this dream for their success as much as his own.
When it comes to Rockness and myself there are a lot of things that don’t need to be said to be understood. But here is something that needs to be said.
When I listen to Rock’s new single ‘Shine Down,’ I hear GROWTH.
Growth is a keyword in life. Growth is what I want for myself. It’s what I want for people I love. It’s what I want for our communities. Rock and I have sat down and discussed many things before, from life, love, motivation, pain, success, family, you name it. But music is always a consistent topic.
Rock can rap his ass off.
Of course he can.
Yet I yearned for this brother to make a song. And not just any song but an honest song. Something with vulnerability that allows us to reconnect with musical soul of the artist we know and love. Something with a beat that complemented his gravel toned voice but didn’t overpower it. Something that displayed rap skills but prioritized the artful elocution of a rapper who knows how to cast a spell with laid back lyricism that leaves room for every bar to breathe and every word to settle on your mind.
I took the photo above over a year ago at 5am after a tribute set when we ended up at one of the most peaceful places in life if you know me–the park. “Stand still a sec,” I told Rock. In that moment, him in front of a tree with its branches stretching to the sky, struck me. I thought the composition of the photo looked like the mind of an artist. A living, growing thing. I saved the photo not knowing what to use it for. But today I know it belongs in this post. To symbolize growth.
I remember hearing raw cuts off Rock’s album earlier in its progression. I was impressed and optimistic about him focusing up. Bernadette was impressed also. But now here we are. The album is out and when I say Rock has given us a song? I mean this is motherfuckin song.
I’ve cried a few tears to it,and smiled to it for quite a few days and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bring myself to really post about it until sharing my feelings with Bernadette the other night. So. Now that I’ve spilled half my guts, admitted my avoidance in trying not to get emotional by avoiding writing about Rock’s release sooner– I’ll end by saying: If you haven’t yet heard it, click below or head to youtube and search #ShineDown by #Rock. Then lay back and let the music, and the shining eyes of Rock’s baby girl lift your spirit. Just be sure to keep some tissues close by. You might get misty eyed.
Well done, Rock.
Rest in peace Sean P.
Rock (Heltah Skeltah): Shine Down ft. Kofi Black, was produced by Pascal Zumaque, with video direction by The Last American B-Boy, off Rock’s first ever solo studio album ‘Rockness A.P. (After Price)’ out now on iTunes, and in physical formatted CDs at Fatbeats.
The album is executive produced by Phil Anastasia (Blood Before Pride). Learn more in this interview Rock did with Jerry Barrowover at Vibe.
What do you get when you mix champagne, green juice and good people? The Juices For Life Brooklyn Anniversary event. For many years I’ve imagined the perfect celebration. It would involve refreshments that delight plant eaters, alcohol imbibers alike. Sometimes I want to sip veggie juice and a glass of bubbly in the same place. Last night, Adjua, Styles P., Angela Yee and DJ Envy made it happen at their Juices For Life Brooklyn Anniversary event.
For me, some of the highlights of the carefully curated evening included, the bubbly, the building, the positive energy from the crew and guests, the dancing, the selfies, the spicy vegan empanadas, and of course, the green juices. I saw people sharing wellness advice with each other. I even discovered a juicing newbie in the crowd, and got him all hype to make drinkin juices a habit.
I’ve given advice to friends, family and some of our favorite emcees on how to eat well. I know how much our collective saying: “each one teach one” matters. I know how fast good info can spread if we take care to share it with our friends, families and people with influence. Good info can save a life.
Similar to the climate during some of Hip Hop’s golden years, it seems there’s a renaissance happening that aims to rekindle the popularity of the edutainment and community-minded spirit of our beloved culture. From Styles and Adjua’s healthy juice talks and candid interview about their daughter’s sexuality, suicide, emotional health, and more–to Envy and Angela holding court on the breakfast club with finance gurus and mental health advocates–it’s clear that this collective crew wants to broaden the minds, hearts and health of hip hoppers, low income earners and other groups of people who could stand to learn more about how food functions as fuel for the body and mind.
There are many reasons why I’m moved by the celebration of this Juices For Life anniversary. Since a young age, I’ve been on a quest to listen to my body and reconnect with whatever my ancestral DNA tells me my body wants to eat. Plants became one of the staples for me. Being raised to give back, and to “tell a friend,” I make it a point to share info on wellness whether it be Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkie film, the Hood Health Handbook, my own juice recipes, or more personal essays, like the hip-hop community health reflection I penned after Sean Price was laid to rest.
I had a juice habit already but the first time Lord Finesse took me to the Bronx Juices For Life location, I knew The Lox were onto something special. They were running their business in a tradition I recognized. A tradition similar to the Rastafarian style of serving healthy food while educating the community and providing a place to convene and talk that multiracial, racial justice, solidarity talk on any given afternoon.
They say real recognize real and love is love. Looks like the Juices For Life owners are trying to show us exactly what real love, and good business sense look like when they are combined.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of The True Meaning album, Cormega teamed up with Brian Kayser to deliver a book that takes an in-depth look at Mega’s critically-acclaimed sophomore effort.
‘Understanding The True Meaning‘ features lyrical breakdowns as well as commentary from various producers and behind-the-scenes team members who were involved with the making of the score. Contributors include Alchemist, Buckwild, D/R Period, Hi-Tek, J Waxx Garfield, and of course J-Love, among others. Purchase the book online at Fatbeats, or Amazon.
Lyricism is the foundation of hip hop music. Word is Bond explores the nature of lyricism via a number of artists who live the culture and practice the art form. From up-and-coming artists, to some of the most legendary figures the game has ever known, Jenkins and his editor Mariah deliver a film that takes you across the country and back — in an ode to the art of rhyming and its connection to community.
It was my pleasure to attend a screening of the film, and I encourage you to listen to some raw snippets of the Q&A with the director via my Youtube audio clip below. The film expected to be released in 2018 on showtime.