Kwame: Nobody’s Laughing

Hip-Hop hurts. I’m not talking about swinging bows and throwing fists. Hip-Hop, the industry, can cut deep, and some scars don’t heal. While most fifteen year olds might not know who Kwame was, they undoubtedly know the opening bars to Biggie’s “Unbelievable” that affirmed Kwame’s decline, and nearly blackballed him from ever being taken seriously […]

Hip-Hop hurts. I’m not talking about swinging bows and

throwing fists. Hip-Hop, the industry, can cut deep, and some scars don’t

heal. While most fifteen year olds might not know who Kwame was, they undoubtedly

know the opening bars to Biggie’s “Unbelievable” that affirmed

Kwame’s decline, and nearly blackballed him from ever being taken seriously


But while Hip-Hop can certainly hurt, it’s rare to see

somebody endure it and come back swinging.

Kwame isn’t angry, bitter, or outdated. Truth be told,

more people are following his work now than ever. No, not by way of his classic,

(yeah-classic!) Day in the Life, but because Kwame is the producer,

along with Eminem, behind Lloyd Banks’ chart-topper, “Fire”.

This isn’t the first time either. Kwame’s been creeping on a comeback,

supplying heaters for LL Cool J, Cam’ron, Mary J. Blige, and others. You

won’t even believe what he’s got cooking next.

Ice Cube and LL Cool J have always been at the top. Maybe it’s

talent, maybe it’s the labels, and maybe it’s everything. But few

successful Hip-Hoppers from fifteen years ago are still involved in the Top

40, or Platinum status discussions. Ten years ago, Miss Cleo couldn’t

have predicted that Kwame would be at the top today, but as Kwame told AllHipHop:

“You’re gonna have to accept me, sometime.” Read what he has

to say, ‘cuz like AllHipHop, Kwame doesn’t know what it means to

quit. Congratulations on “Fire”. That surprised

a lot of people, and will surprise even more who don’t know it yet. Tell

us how that came about.

Kwame: It was weird. I [knew] people were looking for stuff

for they albums. I tailor-make CD’s of tracks I think would be good for

[the artist]. So I sent some out to Sha Money XL. It’s like an actor.

You go in, you do your audition, and keep it movin’ – if they call

you back, they call you back, if they don’t, they don’t. So months

later, he gave me a call and said, ‘I like this particular track. I feel

strongly that this is Lloyd Banks’ first single.’ I hear this all

the time, so it’s, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Okay. Keep it moving.’

I get another call: ‘Eminem is crazy about the track, he wants to get

involved. He’s got some ideas to put to it.’ I’m a team player,

so I’m like, ‘Yeah! I always wanted to work with Em also.’

He put some horn embellishments on the track or whatever and they sent it to

me, and I approved it. Next thing I know, the record is everywhere in the country,

like ‘Damn.’ You were able to be in the recording sessions

with Banks on this?

Kwame: Yeah, I was. Then they transferred some stuff to Detroit

for the mix. I wasn’t able to be [in Detroit]. So even though you said ‘Beat Tape’,

you’re a true producer?

Kwame: Let me tell you, I’m a producer! I’m not

a beat-maker. A lot of people get that twisted. They send in beats or they Pro-Tools

or whateva, and they call it a day. I don’t go for that, personally. I’ve

been around too long to be treated that way. I force my issue on it. Of course

you wanna do it for the money, but at the same time, I do it for the love and

do it for the credit. Because that’s pretty much all you have in this

game is the credit and your name in situations to get you more work. Do you think there’s a future with you

and the G-Unit camp?

Kwame: Things are in the works right now. I’m not gonna

be the G-Unit producer or anything. We’re finalizing some stuff with 50

for his new album and also with Em, but until things are recorded and done and

actually making the album, I can’t put my stamp on it. I also know you’re working with Big Daddy

Kane and Black Sheep – so you’re true to where you came from, as well.

Kwame: More than just Kane and Black Sheep. As far as ‘old

school’: Kool G Rap, Kane, Black Sheep, and possibly Heavy D’s album

on Bad Boy. Also, Dana Dane. A lot of people seem to forget the era that they

come from or what they were in to, and they just go into keeping everything

new. For me, I consider it a give back, because these are the people I looked

up to before I came out. So with Kane, we’re just developing records.

There’s no deal on the table. We’re just doing songs and looking

for the best situation after that. Same thing with Black Sheep. These are people

that I came up with, went on tour with, and developed friendships. So doing

songs for them, isn’t a big deal. With older artists – unfortunately,

there’s a stigma attached to the older artists. Their only recourse is

to do independent records, because I can do a hit single on a Big Daddy Kane

record, but Universal isn’t gonna sign it. Well, the radio won’t play it and neither

will MTV.

Kwame: Yeah, it’s my biggest goal in Hip-Hop is to break

down that barrier between old school and new school, and let it be based on

your talent, your merit, and how you perform [each] record. Because when the

Rolling Stones or the Isley Brothers put out a record, every radio station will

jump on it. Fans from sixteen to sixty will jump on it. Why can’t Big

Daddy Kane be that same way? I feel that’s my duty to break it down. Support

what supported you coming up. Rap is the only art form that’ll tear down

what created it. How hard was the transition for you from old

Kwame the MC to Kwame the producer?

Kwame: Very. The mindset that I had was never hating the industry.

What I learned a long time ago is that this is an industry of opinion. I can’t

reach into people’s brains and change their opinion. All I can do is let

my work show. If you knock at the door long enough, somebody’s gonna answer

the door. I just put myself around situations that could advance me and be a

team player. That worked for me. That took a long time – it took damn near ten

years. What was the lowest point, the bottom?

Kwame: The lowest point was [in 1993], I left Atlantic Records.

I put out Nasty. The album was recorded in ’90-’91. They

didn’t put it out until ’92. By the time they put it out, people

like Tribe were really hittin’ and rap got a lil’ bit grittier –

so that danceable, happy stuff really wasn’t in style. They pretty much

sabotaged me when the album came out and it didn’t do well. So at that

point, I decided to leave Atlantic and I thought I could get into another contract

real quick, and I couldn’t.

By the time my [next] album [flopped], the Biggie situation had happened, it

totally turned the industry against me. Luckily, I wrote and produced all my

own stuff. So I was able to live off of residuals – but at the same time, no

new money was coming in. Luckily, I didn’t go out and get a job or anything.

I had to use my resources from my years in the industry and spread it. I would

do workshops for kids. In teaching them the do’s and the don’t’s,

I was teaching myself.

I remember one time, I was moving because my rent was a little too high and

my checks weren’t supporting [it]. I borrowed somebody’s car and

I’m driving to move, and I turn on to Hot 97, [and they were] just rippin’

me apart. You hear that, millions of people are listening to that. Then you

got a big record that’s dissin’ you, and then you really don’t

have anything goin’ on. That point told me, I’m at the crossroads.

Do I give up? Or do I fight it out? I vowed to fight it out. About the Biggie thing, on the Hip-Hop Babylon,

I thought that was man of you to admit what that did to you and your career.

I also give you credit, as un-Hip-Hop as it may sound, for never going back

at him.

Kwame: It is what it is. I think this is just how I raised.

Whatever happens to you, you allow. Anybody can say anything about you. If two

kids are fighting and one kid’s getting’ bullied, and he fights

back out of anger, he’s gonna lose ‘cuz he doesn’t know what

he’s doing. He just throwing punches and spazzing out. If you doing something

in Hip-Hop, you’re bound to get dissed. What’s the point of holding

on to it? ‘Cuz at one point, I did hold on, and held a grudge. That’s

not gonna help. Keep it moving. I’ve always been curious, especially since

you’re doing so much for the legends, has Premier ever apologized for

his role in that record?

Kwame: No, never. But Premier’s very cool. I don’t

think that has anything to do with him. I had discussions with Biggie about

the record, with Puff about the record. At the time of Biggie’s death,

everything was squashed between everybody. In the beginning, it wasn’t.

Puff and Biggie approached me personally. They pretty much apologized. It didn’t

do anything to help me. Puff didn’t make a producer on any records… Maybe this Heavy D record will be redemption.

Kwame: I’m doing a few projects with Bad Boy. I’m

doing stuff with Babs from Da Band. You were partners with Amen-Ra, who was a big

part of Bad Boy.

Kwame: Yeah, well, Amen-Ra, I grew up with him. He was the DJ

at my eighth grade prom – him and Herbie Luv. I don’t look for any redemption.

My success is my redemption. Going out on a comical note, so many trends in

Hip-Hop were crazy in the early 90’s. What style from right now do you

think is played out?

Kwame: I swear to God,

if I see another throwback jersey… You know what I hate? Anything iced

out. I shouldn’t be one to talk, because I have jewelry myself. But

when anything involving rap becomes the poster child uniform for rap, it

deserves to be played out. When it’s hot, it’s exclusive.

Kwame’s production will be appearing on upcoming projects

from Freeway, Fabulous, Will Smith, and others. Stay tuned.