Saturday, 3 December 2011
King Of Da Crates: the DJ Mike Nice interview
If you've been following the blog for a while you'll know that occasionally I speak to DJs or rappers who were around back in the day and get them to speak on how they came up in the game and generally reminisce a bit. This time out the focus is on a man best known for his mixtapes of insanely rare demos and unreleased material: NYC's DJ Mike Nice...
Who You Be?
I am the original DJ MIKE NICE, formerly of Upstairs Records NYC. I am known as the King Of Da Crates in regards to my mass assortment of unreleased material and demos, and a record collection of 40,000 at last count back in 94!
At present I’m the A&R of Venom Records and DJ and produce for my group The Faculty (EI8Trak & L.Y.F.E)
What was your ‘Day One’ ?
The first record that got me open was around 1981: The Gap Band ‘You Dropped A Bomb On Me’. I was 6 years old at the time.
The 1st Hip Hop record that I recall getting me open was 1984 Rockmaster Scott ‘The Roof Is On Fire’. Shortly after that, ‘La Di Da Di’ and ‘The Show’ by Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh. I was born in 1975 and growing up music was always playing in the crib. My parents played a lot of Disco, Soul & R&B so I heard a lot of breaks early on, even if I didn’t know the name of the song.
Did you roll with a crew or try MCing before you settled on DJing?
I used to tag ZIZ along with the 76th Street boys in Brooklyn
First live show you saw?
Gang Starr at the Palladium in NYC
What clubs/nightspots did you used to hit back then?
The Palladium, Limelight, Webster Hall, Danceteria, Sheets & Pillows and Home Bass were all the NYC spots. There was also this little bar out in Rockaway, Queens called ‘The Bridge’. You would get fucked up there for like $20. They had $2 mixed drink and 50 cent beers. Everybody in the spot was underage. I used to go there in high school and they spun Hip Hop.
Who inspired you to start DJing and who were your influences at the time?
It definitely had to be Red Alert on Kiss FM. I remember him dropping ‘The Bridge Is Over’ for the first time on the radio – “yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!” - I was like "I got to be a DJ". Marley Marl was another influence from the production standpoint. Jam Master Jay and Flash made me want to scratch. But hands down when it came to becoming a producer it was Premier and Pete Rock.
How hard was it trying to make a name for yourself in the 90s mixtape scene, competing with names like Doo Wop, Kid Capri, Ron G etc. Did you have a good relationship with other DJs?
To be honest I did my numbers. I made serious paper in high school to college from say, 92-97, like my junior year in high school to my senior year in college.
I would get like $15 to $20 on a tape. Working at Upstairs Records I made a lot of connections with other DJs in the USA and worldwide. Doo Wop had the mixtape game on smash in the mid 90's. Him and Tony Touch as well as Ron G had the artists dropping exclusive freestyles so it was a different league to compete with. I had to rely on putting unreleased joints on my tapes or dropping album cuts like 6 months before the albums dropped. Shit didn’t leak like it does today. I had ‘Illmatic’ about 7 months before it ever dropped commercially.
One time DJ Clue was going to play a party at St Johns, the college I attended. This was around 95/96 and I was the mixtape man at St Johns. When I saw Clue was going to spin on my turf I wanted at him. There was definitely some DJ ego on my part; I wanted a shot at the hottest DJ in the game! I was like let me see what's up and I called up his man Spank. He managed Clue and I told him tell Clue I'll put up $1000 or my 1200's and we can battle. Spank tells me no, Clue won't take the chance losing as he's at his pinnacle right now. You take him out and his image is done. I was like, that's wack he wouldn't put his skills on the line! I believe Spank passed away a few years back, RIP.
At what point did you realise you were an established? Was there one particular mixtape that got you over?
‘Cracking The Surface’ which I dropped back in 99 was real nutty. I took 50 unsigned artists and recorded exclusive material. This is between 1998 and 1999. This tape was huge on the underground scene, especially in NY. I had Non Phixion, Necro, A Butta of Natural Elements fame on here as well as Ei8trak of Mass Vinyl. Last Emperor was supposed to get on the tape we linked up got to the studio and the engineer never showed up for the session thus we were unable to record.
Were you checking for much Southern or West Coast rap back in the 80s and 90s?
To be honest, no. I was very much on the rugged razorblade east coast shit. I did love the Geto Boys and Snoop & Dre though.
Any memorable encounters with any particular artists back in the day?
Whenever anybody came through Upstairs Records it was always a good time. We had everybody come in from Biggie, Big L, Wu Tang, Nas, CNN, Mobb Deep, Fat Joe and Big Pun, Smooth Da Hustler and more. Big L was cool as hell and mad humble. Naughty by Nature were real chill. Necro & Mr Hyde are another bunch of good dudes. Going to Naked City with Mr Hyde was a trip. The coolest motherfucker ever is Kool G Rap. I met G back in the day up at Harlem Music. Who knew years later I would be working with him in the studio!
You’re known for having a lot of rare and unreleased material – what are your most prized joints?
Probably the Nas & Jay Z demo tapes. A shit load of unreleased Mass Vinyl joints. I also got lots of studio acapellas like ‘The Symphony’ and ‘Eric B Is President’. I got another Biggie & Junior MAFIA joint that ain’t ever dropped so right now I hold that as a gem.
To be honest a lot of shit isnt as rare as it once was to me. Peeps would go nuts when they would come to my crib and be like “damn where the fuck you got that from!”. Im like “ahh, I got more shit, thats nothing!” The most prized gem has to be BIG's original contract released from Uptown to Bad Boy. The shit's signed by Christopher Wallace, Andre Harrell and Puffy. I also have Puff's termination from Uptown to start Bad Boy. Pretty crazy shit as I basically have the original foundation paperwork of a label which put NY back on the map in the 90's. I also got never before seen pics of the car Pac was killed in out in Vegas.
Are there any songs you really want that you haven’t been able to track down yet?
Yes. Biggie, Ol Dirty Bastard and LS from Rumplestiltskin ‘Big Up Its A Stick Up’. Jesse West produced it. Also, the 2 versions of "Flip Dat Shit" – one by Biggie featuring Onyx and Jesse West and the other by Biggie featuring Naughty By Nature & Jesse West. Also the original version of 'Strictly For My Niggaz' with RA The Rugged Man. Rakim’s ‘Break The Wrath In Half’ aka the Big Daddy Kane diss. A lot of people don't know he actually got at Kane on ‘Hypnotic’ ("I don't need to sniff cane to get raw").
There are mad joints and albums that never dropped like The Bitch Haters Club which was Nas, Kool G Rap & Akinyele. I’m also hunting for "Lyrically Ill" which is the first demo ever recorded by Nas & Large Professor.
For every Jay Z or Nas there’s 100 rappers that didn’t quite ‘make it’. Are there any artists from back then who you feel should’ve got more recognition or had the talent to blow up on a larger scale?
I thought Paula Perry was dope as hell. Half A Mil, and of course Big L. There were dozens of others who did shit locally that never blew up because they got side tracked with other shit.
How did you feel about how Hip Hop developed through the 00s? The whole DJ/mixtape game changed drastically...
I feel like around ‘99 what I saw as Hip Hop died. It went from rocking bells to rocking what sells. Hip Hop became more pussy and soft. The rugged grimey gritty shit was being phased out to the glam and glitz and pop shit. The DJ/mixtape game became a fucking joke. Cats who had never even touched turntables or held a piece of wax all of a sudden calling themselves a DJ. Motherfuckers ain’t pay dues. Respect the architect before you begin to build!
What new/up & coming artists are you checking for?
Real talk, I’m feeling Action Bronson, Maffew Ragazino, and of course my group The Faculty.
What do have going on for 2011/2012?
The Faculty (EI8Trak & LY.F.E) ‘Hard Lessons’ - we about to go viral! I got some shit brewing where the world is about to know about HARD LESSONS.
That album bangs beginning to end with no filler. We should be back up on ITunes shortly. The album was recorded in some of the most well known studios in NYC and features production by Domingo, Liveson, DJ Shok, EI8Track, myself and others. We also got Sheek Louch, Kool G Rap, Persia, and my man The Incomparable Shakespeare on there. REAL TALK, ‘HARD LESSONS’ IS THE ALBUM YOU NEED TO CHECK!
Two dope mixes from Mike:
Venom Records International Takeover - all sorts of rare demos and unreleased music from some of Hip Hop's biggest names
Brooklyn Bullshit - rare & unreleased Biggie, Jay Z & Big Daddy Kane
Mike Nice on Twitter
Mike Nice on Facebook
The Faculty on Facebook