Da King & I – ‘Flip Da Script’ (Remix)
taken from Flip Da Script VLS (Rowdy, 1993)
If you’ve been tuning into FDB for a while you’ll know that one of my discoveries of the year has been the fantastic Contemporary Jeep Music from Brooklyn duo DJ Majesty and MC Izzy Ice aka Da King & I. The definition of slept on, the crew’s first and only full length really is a forgotten gem, and if you’ve still failed to check it out then you’re playing yourself something terrible. It was a great pleasure for me to get in contact with the production half of the duo, DJ Majesty, and discuss things past and present: apart from being a hero, he’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure of talking to about hip hop. Here’s how it went down…
From Da Bricks: I’m really happy you agreed to the interview man, I’ve been listening to hip hop for a long time now and when I first heard Contemporary Jeep Music at the beginning of the year it blew me away.
DJ Majesty: Thank you, I really appreciate it.
FDB: Why do you think it endures as such a slept on release?
M: At the time, when we first put the album together, it was kinda an experiment. Not as far as us doing what we do, but for the label Rowdy it was. It was the same label as Monica. At the time they didn’t really know anything about hip hop because they were from Atlanta and we were from New York, so when they put us out no-one really knew what the project was until a couple of years later. People such as yourselves, on blogs and stuff have been like ‘yo, that album was so crazy! I don’t understand!’ but we didn’t get the promotions. We didn’t bicker about it though, we just did the music we felt we were supposed to do. We grew up around Special Ed, Chubb Rock… I came up under Howie Tee, he showed me a lot of stuff. Being in that environment, that music was kind of normal for us, it’s just what we were always around and what we heard so when we felt that we had a chance to do an album, that’s the way we were gonna do it. We didn’t think about the money, we didn’t think about anything like that, we were just doing music from the heart and that’s just the way we do music.
FDB: Can you fill me in on how you and Izzy got together and on some of the earlier releases like the ‘Soul Man’ 45?
M: Wow, you went back! ‘Soul Man’ was actually produced by Howie Tee. Me and Izzy lived around the same neighbourhood and we kinda grew up together. We actually met through Chubb Rock who was a friend of mine who lived two doors away from me. I used to go to Chubb’s crib and just listen to records. I didn’t know how to do beats, but I always had ideas from the block parties and breaks, so I would bring breaks to Chubb and Howie. They would use the record but it wasn’t like I produced it, I’d just bring them ideas.
One day, me and Izzy were sitting out and we decided to form a group. We used to do most of our music using pause tapes, and we used to bring our music to Chubb and Howie’s place to critique it. How the group really got going was when I went to get a 950, my Moms was gonna give me the money, and I went to World Music and that’s when we started venturing out and doing our own music. I bumped into Shadez Of Lingo who were also on Rowdy at the New Music Seminar. We had an agreement that whoever got hooked up first would reach out for the other group. They kept their end of the bargain and introduced me to Dallas Austin and the rest was history.
FDB: The Shadez Of Lingo album is another example of something that has kinda picked up attention long after its release through blogs.
M: Right. We really vibed musically and gelled really well together. I think the problem with hip hop right now is that guys are scared to take chances and be themselves. That’s what’s really making the music stagnant. It’s not so much that hip hop is dead, I just think the creative process of being free has been lost. Everybody’s scared to take chances, and if you can’t just be yourself then you’re kind of scared to live, you know what I mean?
FDB: So when did the two of you start work on Contemporary Jeep Music?
M: In 1992. I was in the movie Juice that came out in ’92 and we got signed in June. The funny thing about it is that we did all of the singles in one day.
M: Yea, because that was like all the pre-production from the house. I had the MP-62, the 950 and an eight track board. When the politics came into play, that’s what took the rest of the album so long. We had ‘Flip Da Script’, ‘Krak Da Weazel’, ‘Tearz’, ‘Let’s Take A Trip’ and ‘Ghetto Instinct’ all done in one day.
FDB: That’s crazy.
M: We didn’t know how the business angle was supposed to turn out, and when we got into the politics of them picking singles, and ‘you can’t do this kind of sample’ type thing that’s what kind of messed us up with our flow. We probably could’ve done about 80 songs back then because we used to just work, work, work and we figured out the rest later.
FDB: When I talk to people about the album, I tend to describe your production style as being quite playful, with lots of different samples coming and going throughout each track. What was the genesis of that style?
M: Pretty much my upbringing, man. In my household we listened to all kinds of music, from jazz, to David Bowie and onto James Brown so coming up my ear was always tuned to different kinds of music. That, and being around lots of different individuals who liked lots of different things meant that I was never the kind of guy to say ‘I’m gonna sample horns’, or ‘I’ll sample jazz breaks’, I just sampled whatever I liked to hear. I like to feel good, so when I go to choose my samples I choose those that’ll make you feel good.
The funny thing about Contemporary Jeep Music was that we used a lot of samples that other people rocked, but they didn’t rock it like we did. We never felt like samples were sacred ground that you couldn’t go over again, so we’d look for things in records that other people hadn’t seen.
FDB: One example of that is the piano loop from ‘Mr. All That’ that had already cropped up on one of the Spencer Bellamy produced tracks on the preC.I.S.E. MC album.
M: How did you remember that?! [laughs]
FDB: I interviewed Spencer recently so had been listening to the album again.
M: That’s crazy! Yea, we both used the Ramsey Lewis joint. That’s my boy too. We all used to be in the basement together. Me, Spencer, Howie Tee, Chubb Rock… so many people used to come to that guy’s basement it’s not even funny. Just what he did with two 950s was amazing to me. He taught me patience, he taught me to listen to the whole record, arrangement, just watching him doing his thing was crazy. He’d take something that 50 people had used but it would be his that you remembered: his was always the most distinctive. I would say it was him and Marley Marl that were groundbreaking to me at that time. The things that they did were like ‘woah!’ [laughs]
FDB: Another thing that really strikes me about the album is the cohesion between beats and rhymes. What was the process for you working together as a pair?
M: Everything we did pretty much started as a concept. We always thought about something before we did the beat. He’d be like ‘I wanna talk about girls’, so we’d make sure that there was some emotion in the beat. When he rhymed over it, it was more believable, because the content felt the same as the energy from the music. That’s pretty much how we did it.
FDB: What part did Izzy play in production?
M: He’d suggest where to put a change, or to add a bridge, or which beats should go with which samples. We were open-ended when it came to ideas, we were never selfish when it came to the production route. Anybody could come in a room with us and contribute if they had some ideas! [laughs]
FDB: You mentioned earlier about Dallas Austin, what was his involvement in the project?
M: The record label was his and he kinda geared us up to be ourselves. He came in and said ‘for you guys to be different you need to avoid pigeonholing yourselves’. What I really noticed about him was that we were the same age, but he had that knowledge and individuals around him to guide him, so he was ahead of his years. He’d produced Boyz II Men, Madonna, every popstar you could name he had produced when he was only 22 years old, so it would’ve been dumb for me not to listen to him. He knew what he was talking about. I just sat back and listened whenever he talked about putting together songs, and that’s where we got our ideas from. He told us to arrange our rap songs like R & B songs, have it change up with a bridge or something, and that’s why our music always changed and why there were lots of things going on. That’s what I got from him.
FDB: One thing that always surprised me about the album was the cover art, because it seemed at odds somewhat with the content of the album. How did that come about?
M: We were from Flatbush and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn at the time. We knew musically we were different, but we still wanted to fit in. Visually at that time it was the Timberlands, Carhartt, and we wanted to lure people in just from the look. When they got the album, we hoped it would blow them away because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be just from the cover. It was kind of like a double standard: you looked at the package and think one thing but when you open it up you got a little bit more.
FDB: I guess that contrast is fitting with the name of the album as well, where you’re still paying tribute to more street level records but offering something different musically.
M: The funny thing about the album title was that we came up with it on a tour bus with Teddy Riley. We were on a promo tour with Wreckx N Effect, Teddy and a few other guys and Teddy listened to a few tracks from the album. He was like ‘wow, it’s kind of real laid back and smoothed out’. I was like ‘that’s not really what I was going for!’ but he was like ‘nah, it’s laid back, but it’s hip hop, jeep bangers’. That’s how the name was born.
FDB: I know you posted a credit on the Yall So Stupid album around the same time.
M: Yea, I did ‘Plant’ and ‘Bootleg Beatdown’ on that album.
FDB: Did you have anything more to do with those guys because they were on Rowdy as well, weren’t they?
M: When we were mixing the album they came in and they asked us if we did production for anybody. At that time, we didn’t really like to work with other people that much because we were so concentrated on the concept of the group, but when they asked I offered them a few beats and those were the two that were on the album.
FDB: Did you post any other production credits at that time?
M: Yea, I worked with Missy, Timbaland’s first two albums, SWV. I did a lot of R & B work after that because I was trying to work with other rappers but for me, I gotta get motivated to work with certain cats and sometimes their subject matter just doesn’t do it for me. I wanted to challenge myself and go in a whole different direction, that’s why I didn’t do a lot of rap production at the time. I also worked with Medina Howard, did a remix for MC Lyte, a few other bits and pieces as well.
FDB: So what have you been up to since then?
M: I kinda faded into the background. I had a couple of songs with Elektra, I did some Keith Sweat stuff, some LSG, stuff that’s out there but I’m not the cat to get in the videos and shout my name so if you don’t look at the credits you’re not gonna know.
FDB: Do you approach R & B production in the same way you do hip hop?
M: It depends. With Missy, she’s kinda abstract. Getting with her was a challenge because she doesn’t like you to do any pre-made beats, so that made me work on the spot with a concept. She wants to be a part of the whole situation. Working with her got me motivated and inspired, because let’s say she’d be on a Stevie Wonder vibe but on that day I might be in Jimi Hendrix mode! [laughs] To have to turn it on and off, it takes your production to another level. It’s still sample based but there’s a lot of instruments as well.
FDB: Do you play any instruments?
M: I play the guitar a little bit, the keyboards a little but. I wouldn’t say I’m a keyboardist but I can play enough to get the job done.
FDB: What about Izzy? What happened to him?
M: He fell back for a minute. He started up an internet company that he’s working on now. He still always rapped, that wasn’t the problem, we just felt like we didn’t really get the just-do we deserved. Instead of being angry, it was just time to tackle something else. But now, we’re like seven songs deep on a new joint so we’re just going to keep going.
FDB: Is the way that you work together still the same?
M: It’s the same, it hasn’t lost a thing. People are gonna think ‘wow, I can’t believe they didn’t drop a second album!’ because it’s still timeless stuff… maybe this one will last another ten years! [laughs]
FDB: How would you describe the sound of the new album?
M: Wow… I would call it more heartfelt in terms of concepts. We’re not talking about money or anything like that, we’re talking about the regular working class guy that’s still trying to pay his bills. Those are the people we’re trying to reach. It’s still sample based but it’s a new twist on the samples. I’m chopping up a lot of breaks like you never heard ‘em before. That’s going to be the main theme of the album.
FDB: When are you hoping to have that done?
M: We want to finish by the end of the year, so we’re trying to get it out during the second quarter of next year. The thing is that we’re fifteen years on, we’re grown, and we want to do it because we feel like there’s people out there who we left a void and we just want to add on to whatever we had back there, I’m not trying to really make any new fans. That was the real motivation for the new joint.
FDB: I can’t wait to hear it. Have you got a distributor lined up?
M: Nah, we’re gonna do this one independent. We may get some international distributors, but now with the internet you don’t need to get bogged down with one situation or one label. I know it’s going to be a growing process, a tour here for a month or two, a tour somewhere else, so to be stuck in one situation… we’re not a million a week group. I don’t think a label would be into us.
FDB: So what role do you see the internet playing in this one?
M: We’re gonna set up a website where you can go and download the album. But just as far as getting out to people it’s just so much easier, you don’t even have to leave your living room to meet new people. We don’t need to waste a load of money on posters and stuff like that like when we first started.
FDB: And what do you make of the internet hip hop scene? Is it something you regularly engage with?
M: I love it because it educates cats that don’t know. People often don’t know the history of certain types of music, and I think the golden age era hip hop should be the blueprint for any type of hip hop that you’re doing. That’s when you had so many different styles, so many different artists, but we were all in one big pot. You didn’t feel like you had to be one way. Now you have a Jadakiss, a 50, but it’s pretty much the same pot. Back then you had Slick Rick, BDK, Kool G Rap, KRS One, Public Enemy, Black Sheep, Pete Rock, Gangstarr, all different styles and we all loved ‘em. We all took something from everyone of those artists but now there just isn’t that versatility that you got back in the 90s.
I think what people like you are doing is such a great thing because you’re giving away so much information and educating people. I was blown away when I saw what you’d written about us because it made me feel like we’d accomplished something and that people had absorbed our music. That made me feel good! [laughs]
FDB: That’s great, thank you. So who are you still checkin’ for nowadays?
M: I like Common a lot, I love his music because he always brings that punch with the lyrics and his production never lost a step. I like Kanye… I love something from everybody. I may not like the whole album, but there’s definitely something I love from everybody. I like Just Blaze, Dr Dre of course… loads of stuff. The only thing I’m not into is the empty raps, you know the snap raps, it’s good for some people but it’s not my thing.
FDB: Thanks again for taking the time out to chat man.
M: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Big shout out once again to Majesty for filling us in on all of the ins and outs of Contemporary Jeep Music and things to come in the future. To say I’m excited about the prospect of new material from the duo is such a ridiculous understatement that it’s not even true. Keep your eyes and ears peeled people, we may have our hands on a few exclusives here at FDB in the near future…