Saturday 19 February 2011
"I Was There" - exclusive Big Ted interview!
So I managed to get as far as a third interview! The feedback's been good so far so thanks to everyone who's enjoyed my previous efforts.
Stepping up with some Hip Hop stories and memories of his time in the game is someone who's been at the centre of the scene in London for longer than most, holding it down on Radio, TV, vinyl and live on stage...
Who You Be?
I be The Big Ted, Big Teddy Ted, Chubby Kid No 1, Jeopardy, Hip Hop personality like no other. South London representative til I die. Known for launching Friday Night Flava with DJ 279. Known for killing it on stage with Blak Twang & Ty as well as holding down one of the best hip hop radio shows for nearly 10 years on Kiss 100. Ask about me!
What was your ‘Day One’?
Wow, the tune that got me into hip hop? I guess like most heads from my generation it would have been seeing the Sugarhill Gang on Top Of The Pops back in 79 that got my attention, but I wouldn't really say that got me into Hip Hop because nothing came after that on a commercial level for years. I'd probably go for 'Planet Rock' as the tune that really got me wanting to pop n break. I can remember, back in about 83, being at the Notting Hill Carnival with my big cousin Raymond under the flyover and listening to the DJs (Maximum Scratch, Dave VJ, Louis and Herbie) of the Mastermind Roadshow soundsystem play, watching the crowd go crazy with EVERYBODY doing their best robot and popping moves. Incredible!
Did you have a ‘crew’ or ever get into MCing/Breaking/Graf before you settled on DJing? I’ve heard you drop a few rhymes on more than one occasion!
Back then in 83-84 when I really started getting into it, I wanted to do everything! Hip Hop to me was like a brand new school full of the dopest subjects. I guess I started rhyming first because it was the most affordable of the 4 to get with. Just a pen and paper! I'd listen to my Mike Allen and Westwood tapes over and over and just snip out my favourite lines from Run DMC or Whodini or Melle Mel or whoever and just bite and recite!!! Eventually I started writing my own stuff but those early rhymes of mine were real heavy on the plagiarism!
I did the b boy thing too. Like I said I wanted to do it all and I was a pretty decent popper in my day. I was actually in my school dance crew 'Street Level' and we entered the Metropolitan Police Disco Dance Championships - can you even believe such a thing existed! We came 2nd behind some girl group and actually got presented with our medals by Floella Benjamin! I'm deep in the game son!
Outside of school I was in another local crew called the Global Wizardz and we'd roam the streets with our roll of lino and a boombox and just battle! That shit was crazy. Just popping and breaking all over the damn place. Although I should mention that I was only ever a popper, my breaking was wack beyond belief. Another crazy fact for hip hop history nerds like myself, go and look for a book called 'Let Colin & Linval Show You How To Breakdance'. It features a few founding members of the London scene like MC Mell’O’, Bionic (London Posse) and little old me showing folks how to pop and break. We got paid £10 each and I remember rushing off to Our Price to buy the Beat Street soundtrack. I don't even own a copy of it but they used to sell it in Martins (who remembers that shop?) and I'd go in there every day after school and look at myself in the book!
The DJing came in a little after the rhyming once I found out where to buy some of the records I'd been taping off the radio. The first proper Hip Hop record I bought was 'Roxanne, Roxanne' by UTFO on Streetwave records (I didn't know about import releases at the time) and I played it to death on my Dad's record player. I tried to mix it with every track that came on the radio and and that's how I started learning about matching beats and tempos. That finger powered pitch control was all I had.
When it came to graffiti I was kinda-nearly-sort-of okay at it. I was far from being up to Subway Art standard though. My tag was decent but my pieces were a bit weak!
As far as the development of my rapping goes, I just kept on with it after the b- boy thing died off and I was wanting to make a name for myself with it. I was in a crew at college in 86/87 called Mission 2 Kill. We were so dope! We had the matching denim jackets with the white fleece inside. We rocked Avia trainers after seeing them on the cover of 'Yo! Bumrush The Show'. Big shoutout to K-Ski and Rodney. We even sent a demo to Music Of Life Records and got rejected. I still have the letter they sent back with our tape! After that I was in a group with some school freinds called Black Gold. Me, T Hakeem, Knewborn & DJ Cuttin' K. We made a whole bunch of dope demo tracks but we never made it to wax sadly. Distractions kinda made us lose focus as a group but I stayed with it and went on to enter the DMC UK Rap Championship in 1990. This was when they had an MC competition right alongside the DJ one. Uncle B Nice was the champ at the time and I came through and won the final at the Hippodrome in Leicester Square. A Tribe Called Quest and Professor Griff & The L.A.D. were the judges. Jarobi from Tribe came up to me and said "Yo, your shit was def!" I was so gassed by that. I still can't forget that moment. Around ‘91 I made my 1st record with one of my all time hip hop heroes DJ Pogo. 'Breaking The Silence' came out on the Pay Day Recordings label that DJ Bizniz and Dego set up. I can remember hearing Max & Dave play it on Kiss FM. That is one of the greatest moments ever as an artist, to hear your joint on the radio for the 1st time. Unforgettable.
Since then, I've done tracks as either an MC or DJ with The Brotherhood, The Gutter Snypes, Mark B, Blacksmith, Pryme Rhyme Masters, Doze Guyz, Blak Twang, Estelle, Ty, The Herbalizer, Karl Hinds and a few others. I think I got enough stuff for a mixtape, hahaha!
People STILL ask me to spit a verse for their projects but I dunno. Maybe one day I'll sit down and really put some solo shit together just for fun. We'll see.
You used to work at Liberty Grooves (London store behind the Freestyle Frenzy albums and that Kool G Rap/Akinyele 12") That shop has something of a mythical status nowadays – what memories do you have from working there?
Yeah, I worked at Liberty Grooves, if you can call it work. I just used to chill and talk Hip Hop with customers all day long. I took my first trip to New York while working there. Johnny F, the Hip Hop vinyl master, brought me with him on a record shopping trip. That was an amazing journey from store to store. Rock n Soul to Downstairs Records to warehouses full of wax to the Tommy Boy office. It was dope. In one store the dude behind the counter was like "Yo, y'all should grab these joints right here. It's some new group. We only got a few copies". We took them and ended up being the first and only store in the UK to have Wu Tang's 'Protect Ya Neck'. Those copies flew off the rack. We used to have the most incredible records for sale. Mad promo only versions with the extra instrumentals or acapellas and remixes. We killed EVERY other shop selling hip hop in our day. There was no competition. Honestly, my days in that shop were some of the best days I've ever had. I met so many good people by being there. People still come up to me on a near monthly basis to tell me that I sold them records 17/18 years ago! It was a sad day when Johnny had to close the doors on that place. I wasn't even there that day sadly. I was up at Gee St studios doing the Def Jam 10th anniversary mixtape and Shortee Blitz was doing a stint behind the counter!
Who inspired you to start DJing?
I'd have to say that all the old school DJs inspired me, from Flash to Jazzy Jay to Red Alert to Afrika Islam. His tape where he’s cuttin' up 'Catch A Groove' is some ill shit! Cutmaster Swift, Cosmic Jam (R.I.P), Pogo and the Imperial Mixers. Cash Money's 'Scratching To The Funk' is a lesson in DJ skills! Of course Jazzy Jeff with the transformer scratch. Undercover used to send his tapes into Westwood on LWR and I just soaked it all up. There are so many DJs that just made scratching sound so dope and I had to learn that shit.
Tell us a bit about your involvement in radio and how you ended up taking over from Max & Dave on Kiss FM
As far as my radio inspiration I have to name Mike Allen, Max & Dave, Tim Westwood, Dave Pearce, Mark Anderson, George Kay, Richie Rich, Mark Ross, Chris Nat and some names I forget!
I give super mad props to DJ 279 because he gave me my break on radio waaaaay back when in 92/93. He interviewed me for his original demo that he sent to Choice FM. He got the job and took over the Rap Attack show from DJ Steve Wren. He brought me in a while later and that's when I came up with the Friday Nite Flava concept. He liked it and the rest is history boyyyeee!
I left Choice around 96 and hooked up with Shortee who was already doing the mixing slot for Max & Dave’s show on Kiss. The short story is that Kiss had a change of ownership and made a lot of changes to their line up and that opened the door for Blitz and I to take over. I feel like it was a natural progression because I had been a fan of Max & Dave for years, even going back to their early pirate days on Solar or Horizon (I forget which!) and then pre-legal Kiss. It really felt like an honour to be able to continue what they started.
You had a LOT of big names come through the show through the years, which moments stand out?
My favourite guests would have to include the late great Jam Master Jay. We were so nervous about him coming to the studio. This was Jay, DJ from one of the greatest groups in history! When he came in he was so cool about it and said "Listen, we're all DJs up in here so let's just have some fun" WOW! It was a dope interview and we ended the show with all of us rhyming ‘Sucker MCs’. That was emotional. Another favourite of mine would be my Pete Rock interview. If I die tomorrow, please pass out copies of that session with the Chocolate Boy Wonder! It was such an easy experience to talk to him because I'm so into his music. When an artist knows YOU know, it makes everything great. We spoke about so many subjects and I got to rhyme 'For Pete's Sake' with him too. Nobody on the radio before or since does stuff like that.
Another classic happened back in 94 when Nas came over to do promo for ‘Illmatic’. 279 had asked me and a few other skilled wordsmiths to be present when Nas was coming to the show and we had a crazy freestyle session with Nasty Nas himself. It was Stickz, Sniper G-The Assassin and Myself. I found a tape of that recently and I almost can't believe it's real.
(UPDATE 25/02 - Ted posted it HERE)
I once interviewed Busta and he revealed that Nicole Richie gave him 'a lil head'. LL Cool J told me he really liked my Timberlands, plus I got him on video nodding hard to Blak Twang's ‘So Rotton’!
Joe Budden was an asshole until he realised that we actually knew what we were talking about. He would come off the mic during breaks in the interview and start checking responses on his website! Ja Rule and Ashanti were cool people. I had a lot of fun with that one. Gang Starr was another emotional one, simply because they are so legendary and it can make you feel a little awkward at first.
It used to be a real problem to have to get over meeting an artist you've been a fan of for years and get straight down to the business of an interview minutes later.
My interview with Game will NEVER EVER be topped by anybody. I remember when the label rep called and said I could have an interview but went on to tell me not to ask about Dr Dre. Don't ask about 50 Cent. Don't ask him to freestyle, plus a couple other words of warning! So I'm thinking that I'm really not going to enjoy that one. Anyway, show time came around and I'm doing my on air promo and saying that Game is coming through. I was giving it a lot of hype and really talking big about it even though I was dreading it. Just before 10pm, Game bursts through the studio door and is like "Yo Big Ted WASSUP!" I'm thinking 'who the hell is this dude?' I was expecting a miserable bastard but he was so live and amped up and we into a massive freestyle session almost straight away. We were battling each other with artists impressions and all sorts of madness. I killed him with my Nas voice! That was dope.
When we let the Dark Horizon crew do a takeover and had Estelle, SkinnyMan, Mystro, Karl Hinds, Seanie T, Keith Lawrence, Ty, Skeme and a bunch more controlling the show for nearly an hour. I was doing 'UK' shows way before it was a fashion to do it. I've never ever liked or accepted the term 'UK Hip Hop'. I never did UK Hip Hop; Cutmaster Swift didn't win the DMC World Championship with “UK scratching”. It was just dope. That has always been my criteria for judging things: Is it dope? If it's not then it's wack and I don't want it!
I got a million more stories. I've had some good times on the radio.
What was the Hip Hop scene like in London in the 90s?
The London scene was exciting back then. There were hip hop clubs constantly like Flava Of The Month, FKO Raw, The Hop, and anything at Subterrania. A few dope moments at Flava Of The Month include the time Janet Jackson came through and was jamming in the centre of the dancefloor! Large Professor passed through. Guru was hanging with folks and taking pictures. The DJ battle between F***t R**e and Bizniz and Pogo. That shit was epic!
The record shops in the West End like Deal Real, Handspun, Mr Bongo were full of artists and DJs on the weekend. The radio was full of shows. The amount of music that was coming out was phenomenal. I was on tour with Blak Twang doing shows supporting the ‘19 Long Time’ album. Mud Family were terrorising the freestyle circuit. The music at that time was on such an equal par with what was going on in the US. A lot of artists were releasing their first projects and the energy was amazing. Everybody on the scene was truly moving as part of the same cause. It was a really special time.
First live rap show you saw?
I think it would be Kurtis Blow & AJ Scratch at the Town & Country Club, now known as The Forum in Kentish Town.
There’s a few shows that always come up when people discuss the London scene in the 90s: the riot outside the Onyx show and the Busta Rhymes ‘no-show’ at The Forum...
With the Onyx riot, I thought I was on 279's guestlist for that one. I turned up early to secure my spot and I rolled up to the door. A big dreadlocked fellow was standing there and I said I'm on 279’s list. He didn’t even look at me. He just said “No guestlist!” That was that. I turned around and went home. Later I hear on the news about the riot. I guess that was lucky escape!
The Busta gig went all wrong but in the beginning everything was going so well. I did my DJ set and the atmosphere was lovely. I even remember taking the mic and saying “Fuck Westwood” to the roaring crowd! We had a fashion show going on up there and it was all looking so good. Then it started to drag on a bit waiting for Busta to get on stage. I went backstage to one of the production offices and asked what was happening; everybody looked at their shoes!
I was in shock. I knew it would all turn to shit once people knew was going on. I asked Rodney P to get my record box off the stage as it might have looked a little suspicious if I went and dragged my records away. I wanted to leave before it got crazy so I asked Rodney to give me a lift home. I got in and turned on Westwood's show and heard him laughing his ass off about what was happening. He was taking live calls from people at the scene. It was horrible! I felt sick for a week about that whole night. I even had to pay back ticket money to people out of my own pocket! Sadly, the guy 279 was working with on that event was a crook.
How about the Def Jam Tour in 1987?
Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Eric B & Rakim. They were all coming to London. Hammersmith Odeon. Three of my favourite artists. Three nights in a row, but: I HAD NO MONEY FOR A TICKET!!!!!
So, I had to have a plan. I tried asking the parents. NO! I tried asking my older brother to buy me a ticket. NO! I'll have to get a job then. What job is going to take me on and pay me in time to get a ticket for this show...? Step in my man Scott at number 9. He tells me that his brother Barry can get me a job at.... wait for it...Hammersmith Odeon! No way! "Yeah man, he works there as an usher" What? Can you believe it? Where do I sign up? I went down there and sat through what I swear was the simplest interview I have ever had.
"Do you mind working late?" Nope. "Are you okay with talking to people and showing them to their seats?" Yep. "Do you mind clearing up the bar during the intervals?" No problem. "When can you start?" Today! Now! "Congratulations. The job is yours!" To be honest if they asked me to shovel elephant dung til midnight I'd have said 'Hell yes'.
I went to work about 4 hours EARLY every day that the tour was on. I watched LL Cool J sound checking. I watched Bobcat sit on his record box and polish his gold chains. I watched Eric B walk around in his Dapper Dan suit and a neckfull of jewellery. I sat with a small crowd and listened to Chuck D talk about life, the universe and everything. I got autographs from Flavor Flav and Terminator X. I was so gassed at just being there. I took pictures of the shows, especially when LL brought on his massive boom box. Flashing LED's and everything! I still got them somewhere. The dopest part of it all, besides walking around the venue just before the doors opened and seeing hundreds of people dying to get in, was the the fact that I actually GOT PAID to watch the show - 3 times - that only weeks before I couldn't even afford a ticket for!
In fact, if you listen closely to the live show inserts on the 'Nation Of Millions' album, you'll hear me screaming 'I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!'
What did you make of the way Hip Hop developed through the 00s? It must’ve been strange that the ‘underground’ music you had been playing for years was suddenly getting mainstream attention?
It was crazy to see artists that a few years ago nobody was trying to play, now getting daytime spins. We played the shit out of Jay Z, Nas, Snoop, MOP and others for years before that shit blew up and it felt good to see it take off. But somewhere along the line the record companies seemed to forget how much love we showed these artists in the beginning and they started to become almost too big for hip hop shows - WTF! But that's how it goes innit. I was cool with the commercial success because all I ever wanted really was to see hip hop on a massive scale worldwide. I just wish I'd bagged a couple million along the way!
Your show on Colourful focuses mainly on classic Hip Hop. Do you still check for new stuff and if so who are you checking for?
Yeah, Teddy's Jam is my new(ish) baby. I try to keep it with the classic material because Colourful as a station has that classic feel to it. They play classic soul, reggae, jazz, house, funk and allsorts so I thought that a classic Hip Hop show would fit right in. I mix it with breaks and samples to keep with the natural style of the station and to draw in folks that think I'm just gonna be playing a bunch of rapping and swearing! There's NOTHING on the air anywhere that caters to folks like me that actually grew up on hip hop and breaks. I play from the Sugarhill era right through to Def Jam and Rawkus.
I still check for new music, but it has to have that original hip hop feel about it. Dudes like Jay Electronica, J Cole, Fashawn, Joker Starr, Mystro. Plus of course my family like Blak Twang and Ty who are still releasing strong music but not getting the exposure due because of the way the game has changed. I'm still excited when older artists drop new material especially when it's dope. That's what it's always been about for me: that anticipation of the new hotness. It's like nobody cares that Redman just dropped an album. You'll hear it on my show. Ace & Ed OG, you'll hear it on Teddy's Jam. There is so much amazing hip hop out there both old and new that should get played and I'm trying to do my thing for all the ageing b-boys!
What do have going on for 2011 ?
Well, for the 0 double 1, I'm trying to raise the profile of Teddy's Jam. That's my priority. I want to launch an event at some point too that's tied in with the show. I'm back out on stage hosting now and I plan to be doing my thing at a lot of events this year. I got KRS ONE and Pete Rock & CL Smooth under my belt already so that's looking good. I'm also back in the studio with Ty, putting down ideas for the new album which I guess will lead to more touring at some point. I have a blog ready to go: thisstuffisreallyfresh is going to be me telling my stories and just having fun with some grown up Hip Hop talk. Further than that, I just want to keep the love alive for this culture that has given me such an exciting ride so far.
Big thanks to Ted for taking time to do the interview. You can catch him hosting various shows around London (at EPMD tonight for example) and every friday from midnight-2am (UK time) on Colourful Radio
Big Ted with Pete Rock & The UN on Kiss FM (2001)
Big Ted & Shortee Blitz on Kiss FM (2000)
Big Ted & Shortee Blitz on Kiss FM (1999)