By Geoff Walker
Big Daddy Kane’s name is carved into The MC Mount Rushmore. From his stint in the Juice Crew in the ’80s to classics like “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’,” “Smooth Operator” and “Warm It Up, Kane,” the man is emulated by generations of MCs. Pollstar caught up with BDK to find out more about his legendary career.
Pollstar: Kane, last time I saw you, you tore down the stage at DJ D-Nice’s CQ Live show at Carnegie Hall!
Big Daddy Kane: Yeah, yeah, I had a good time!
The live band, The way you controlled the horns. You’re a masterful conductor. That was incredible.
Oh yeah, I saw Isaac Hayes do it back in the day. I just tried to recreate it. When I saw that his music director (Igmar Thomas) was trying to create new stuff, I’m like, “Okay. I got some ideas. Can we try these?” It took off from there.
Kane, this magazine issue is a celebration of hip-hop. I want to highlight the iconic MCs. Aug. 11, 1973, five decades back, Herc rocks his Back To School Jam. What does that date mean to you?
It symbolizes organization. Prior to ’73 you had Grandmaster Flowers, DJ Plummer, the Disco Twins, rocking block parties. You had DJ Hollywood, Eddie Cheeba since 1971, rhyming on the microphone, over the little eight-bar break section of a song. But it wasn’t unified. Herc had a vision that really organized hip-hop, shaped it to what it needed to look like. Herc is responsible for that.
Do you recall the first time you heard someone rap?
My first real up-close encounter was 1977, with my older cousin. “Love Is The Message” was a Brooklyn anthem and a mic line just formed, like 20 people wanna rhyme. Ten of them probably said the same rhyme. “At age one my life begun,” and “lemon to the lime, lime to the lemon.” Everybody wanted to rhyme off of “Good Times,” “Got To Be Real” stuff like that.
What MCs at that time were on the mic?
It wasn’t until a cassette tape that had the “Furious” song and I heard Mel rhyme, and the Cold Crush tape and I heard Caz rhyme, I was like, “These dudes are a problem on the microphone up there in the Bronx.” I went to Park West with (Swan), he played a Cold Crush tape, and I heard Grandmaster Caz. “Damn,” Caz said. “I’m 6 foot one half, not good at math, saying rhymes to myself when I’m taking a bath.” I’m sitting there like, “Damn, I’m six one. I ain’t thinking no shit like that. Now I gotta step my game up.” I threw my rap book away. I was Tony Tee and became MC Kane.
When does MC Kane meet Biz Markie?
In 1984 me and Biz met, and we battled. Biz was like, “Yo, you dope. You need to get down with me. I promise you if you get down with me, I’m gonna get you a record deal.” Biz got me established where I could go to Marley [Marle]’s house and work on stuff and make my own music.
When did you write your classic records “Raw” and “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” from your debut album, Long Live the Kane?
So I’m driving Fly Ty crazy at some point, Ty finally gave in, like, “Look, go ahead, man. Just go ahead and record something.” Marley had put this beat together, I wrote the rhymes for “Raw.” I started off with, “Here I am, R-A-W.” I felt like this is finally my chance to be just me.
When was the first show for Long Live the Kane?
I think my first show, Latin Quarter’s or Stardust Ballroom
You toured with Long Live the Kane and your second album, It’s a Big Daddy Thing?
On Long Live the Kane, I’m talking about what I knew, which was Brooklyn. I’ve been with Biz to Philly, D.C., I really knew what I saw in Brooklyn. When I made It’s a Big Daddy Thing, I related to people on the West Coast, in the Midwest, in Japan. I knew so much more. I had young fans my age that were crazy about me. I got grown-ass adults just telling me I’m very mature, I got Black, Latino and white fans. I had fans that couldn’t even speak English in Japan. I knew how to relate to a much bigger audience.
Your favorite venues and cities in the ‘80s and the ‘90s?
Definitely Latin Quarter’s and the Apollo, those are two main places that I love playing. The Paradiso in Amsterdam. Now, I would say, Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Jazz Cafe in London.
Yeah. Chene Park in Detroit, they’re usually the places I like to play in.
Where do you think hip-hop continues to go?
Well, I think that it’s beautiful to see cats like D-Nice playing Carnegie Hall, and things that The Roots have done, cats doing different things to expand hip-hop on different levels, across different platforms. I think it’s beautiful. Grandmaster Caz always says that, “Hip-hop didn’t invent anything, it reinvented everything.” With that understanding, you see the power of this music genre. It can reinvent pop music, R&B, it can reinvent jazz, reggae, ’cause all of those are elements, but hip-hop has no true musical origin. There’s not a certain style of instrumentation that created hip-hop, it’s elements from different genres that DJs cut up and MC’s rhymed over.
So, therefore, we can be talking pop, we can be talking rock ’n’ roll. “Big Beat” from Billy Squier’s rock ’n’ roll record. “Rocket in the Pocket” from Cerrone is a techno record. So many different genres are all put together to create hip-hop, so it reinvents everything. There are no limits. Yes, it can be done with the symphony at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, whatever. Yes, it can do all of that. It can be in the middle of a reggae festival in Jamaica because it has no boundaries.