It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to speak to a New York legend like Kwest tha Madd Lad, even more so as a Canadian hip-hop historian… But the opportunity arose, and I felt it would be foolish not to accept it and seek it out. Signed to Rick Rubin’s American’ in the early to mid 1990s, Kwest finally saw his first album released in 1996 creatively titled “This Is My First Album”.
Since then, he’s participated in battles, rhymed alongside Eminem, and has recently linked up with Monsta Island Czars emcee / producer King Cesar to release a new EP titled S.P.T.R. In addition to a digital / CD release through Bandcamp, Kwest has partnered up with Chopped Herring Records to release the EP on wax, along with a b-side of unreleased joints previously released on CD through No Sleep Recordings.
A lot of gems were covered throughout the interview, so for my fellow hip-hop heads and history buffs. Grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the read!
[Transcribed from an Audio-Conversation, Wednesday, April 24 2019]
RR: Your project titles… “This Is My First Album” “This Is My First EP.” “This Is My Second Album: Sophomore Slump”, “These Are My Unreleased Recordings”. You were dedicated to following this theme it seems like EPMD was “Business”. What was the idea here?
[laughs] being totally honest, it was just being literal. It was my first album, it was my first EP. Not that I couldn’t think of any title, but just literally. “This Is My First Album”, “This Is My First Album”. It deviated a little bit when I did the new EP “S.P.I.T.R.” (Smartest Person in the Room), but the next album after that, and I’m getting ready to start recording for the new album, will have the same theme. Probably “This is My Fourth Album” or “This is My Album in 2020”, something crazy.
RR: Debut album has production from Poor Righteous Teachers Tony D (RIP). What was your experience like working with Tony D? And if that was set up through American? Or?
It was set up through American if I remember right. I think Dan Charnas knew him, well I know Dan Charnas knew him as he worked for Profile which had Poor Righteous Teachers as an artist at the time. He [Tony D] did a lot of work with Poor Righteous Teachers on their first album. We were scouting around, looking for producers… and I like Tony D. You know; I’d heard his production on their album, on another couple songs. You know I wanted him to rhyme on the album actually, but he didn’t want too. We went to his house in Jersey, he played me some beats. I came up with the two songs we did on the spot; “Herman’s Head” and “Check It”. I know we got out there early that afternoon, and we didn’t leave till later on that evening, we left with two full songs recorded.
RR: Firehouse Recording Studios, was that in California? Pasadena? If so, did you record most of your debut on the west coast? Is that because American was based out of LA?
Nah, that was in New York. A lot of famous producers used [the studio]. The RZA, from Wu-Tang at the time, when they first dropped; that was their first studio.
RR: Did you run into a lot of those guys?
Funny thing is, there’s a story… I’ve only told it a few times. I was in the studio recording, I think it was “Skincare” at the time and one of the studio engineers came in and was like “Somebody’s outside”.
I’m like “who?”
He said “RZA”.
I was like “Oh shit, I wonder what this dude wants to speak to me about.” You know, they had just dropped the 36’ Chambers album, and the album was big everywhere. […] He said; I heard your record Lubrication and I think that’s some funny shit, keep doing your thing.” That was dope, that was one of the highlights.
Carlos Bess, who was the producer for Ghostface’s “Cherchez La Ghost” record, he was the engineer for the majority of my sessions. He was the engineer for most of RZA and the Wu-Tang’s sessions when they were recording there as well.
RR: In an interview I read you had stated that you felt American didn’t give you the freedom to make your record the way you wanted to make it the way that they had done for The Nonce, or Chino XL. Why do you think they treated you differently?
It’s not so much that they wouldn’t give me the freedom, they let me have total control over everything on my album. It was more the fact that when it came time to put it out, they lingered and they sat on it for basically two years. I recorded the majority of the album late 93’, early 94. It was supposed to come out Fall of 94’, it didn’t come out till Fall of 96.
I don’t know, maybe they thought they saw better opportunities in other artists that they had signed. I know I was told I didn’t have enough single material, that I had to go back and record more songs that were more radio friendly, and more radio worthy that I wasn’t trying to do. Cause I know there were at least 4 or 5 songs on the album that were at least radio ready.
RR: So the final project then, when it was finally released in 96’, that had more of a radio appeal than you originally anticipated and wanted for the album then?
Nope, that was the exact same album that I submitted in 94. Nothing changed on it. The records you heard on “These Are My Unreleased Recordings”, some of those songs (not all of them) were supposed to be swapped out. There were songs that I felt that were supposed to be on “This is My First Album” that I thought would beat it. Flow wise, subject wise, the majority of the record, there was a lot of sex on it. Everyone who’s heard the album knows, there was a lot of sex on it. In the two years from the time I had recorded the album, to the time that it came out, I had grown as an emcee. Leaps and bounds. I wasn’t even rhyming the same anymore, different topics, newer material, I had gotten better with storytelling. So I wanted at least 5-6 of the songs that were on the original album swapped out for newer songs that I had. I think it would have made it a more well-rounded 96’ sounding album. They let me record maybe 6-7 new songs, but when the time the album dropped, I was told some of the songs were going to be swapped out, but it never came about. When the album dropped in 96’, they put the exact same album out that I gave to them in 94’, so I had felt that I had recorded all those songs for nothing.
[…] If songs on the album that I didn’t like were taken out for the newer songs I had did, I probably would have stayed on American and had a second album. As I would have been happier on the finished product. […]
RR: American at one point had both Rhyme Cartel and Wild West (Morris Taft’s label), along with a few artists directly signed to American, which included yourself, Art Official, Blaque Spurm and 5-One-Six. How tight of a family was the label, and I’d love to know what happened to some of those cats. Do you know the status of artists like Blaque Spurm and 5-one-Six.
I was cool with 5one6. Erik Romero from 5one6, we just recently got back in touch together. We were talking about doing new songs. He still rhymes, he’s still nice, and he’s still dope with his production. I was cool with them, most of the other people; being that I lived out here [NY], as opposed to living in LA, and was always being thrown out there to record and do business stuff, I wasn’t in the office a lot. So I didn’t get to meet a lot of the other artists. I never met Milk, I didn’t know Blaque Spurm, I never met Sir Mix A Lot, I knew Chino, cause Chino’s from out here, and when him and Dan were first doing songs I met him with Dan Charnas when we were out here. So I knew him, but there wasn’t any super-interaction with me and a lot of the artists.
Really, every artist at American, they gave people the freedom to do what they did. I know The Nonce did what they did at a home studio, and they just came in to clean it up. But I’m not sure, a lot of the artists, we didn’t really interact with a lot of them. A few times when I was in the office, we’d see each other walking around, but nobody really went out of the way to speak. I only met Rick Rubin once, and he’s the head of the label. He’s the one who signed the check for my album and I only met him once.
RR: What’s your relationship with the M.I.C. Monsta Island Czars? And what’s still happening with that collective? I see the poster for their debut hanging up in one of your latest music videos, and there seems to be a connection now.
I know a few of them. I don’t know the whole click, like I never met DOOM. Shout out to DOOM, I’d love to meet him and do a song with him. I’m tighter with King Cesar, AKA X-Ray. He did a lot of the production and rhymed on the majority of the Monsta Island Czars records. He reached out to me, and he’s the reason I’m back in this, truth be told. I hadn’t rhymed in years, I stopped rhyming I think in 2000-2001.
[…] I was still a fan, always a fan first and foremost, but I was done with hip-hop. But X-Ray reached out to me on Facebook, he told me he was a fan and always wanted to do something with me. He had a studio in Queens, a dope home studio, that’s where you see the posters at in the video. The video your talking about is for “World Premier”, and that’s on the EP I just put out; S.P.T.R.. He reached out, and we started doing songs together. His clique of producers is Organik Poisons, and he has a label “Mindbenda Recordings”. I was on one of the songs on the Chemical Monkey Wrench album [by Organik Poisons], go pick that album up, that album is dope. And we just started working from then.
RR: So you hooked up with Bob recently at Chopped Herring to put out that Old and New. A lot of that Old stuff came from your 2007 Unreleased Project through No Sleep. Did you have to go back to Dan Charnas and James at No Sleep in order to get approval for Bob to green-light the project?
No, not at all. James and Bob have a decent relationship. I thought there was going to be a conflict of interest as well being that James put it out on his label back then; “No Sleep”, but he gave the green light. We haven’t spoken in a while, but I’m always going to have love for that dude. He said it’s fine. We picked the best five songs, they say hindsight is 20/20, but I didn’t realize a couple of the songs we put out were actually on wax already. But those were the songs Bob wanted. I sent him over 5-6 songs, but he’s the guy writing the checks, he can have what he wants. As long as we’re putting the new EP on one side, and he wants to put the older material on the other, I think it’s a dope idea.
I don’t think the songs generated enough revenue that there would have been a conflict of interest, but like I said, James gave the green-light. […] Shout out to Bob and shout out to Chopped Herring too, thank you!
RR: What was your experience like working with Bob?
I was just really like; he wants to put out the EP? Okay, let’s hear what his ideas are. X-Ray really dealt with him more on the business aspect of it though. He reached out to me, he told me the idea before I ran it past X, and said it was cool. I thought it was just going to be the EP, and then he came up with the idea and said “You know what? Let’s put the EP on one side, and I already spoke to James, let’s see if we can put 5-6 songs from the Unreleased LP on the other side, and let me get a complete project.” He already had the green-light from James, and I was like “Okay cool.” He was real cool.
I didn’t see the artwork until it actually dropped. As I was on a little clause where I couldn’t say anything about the wax until the day it came out, and I guess he wanted me to be surprised with the artwork. Once I seen the finished product and then I found out the wax was green and purple, I thought that was so dope! I’m pleased with the project, I have nothing but good things to say about it. And Bob, if he wants to do something in the future, I’m more than willing to work with him again, cause he seems like he’s a really cool dude, and I never hear anybody saying anything bad about him, so he’s cool in my book.
RR: Last question; Eminem just posted on Instagram and Twitter that he’s doing a merch release of artwork done up by Skam and posted a photo of the Five Star Generals along with it and an interview with Skam himself. What was your reaction to this post when you first saw it?
[I saw that!] You know what’s crazy? That picture has been floating around for the longest. Because I posted that picture a while ago, and A.L. [also] posted that picture. We all knew it, and I’m not sure if any of them interact with Eminem, I haven’t spoken to him in years, since the Rap Olympic battles. But being that he posted it up yesterday, dude, it’s gotten such a good response. And such a good wave of feedback. No lie, within the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten like 100-150 friend requests on Instagram, more friend requests on Facebook, etc.
All that came together from Shabam Shadheeq. Shout out to Shabam. He asked all of us to be on his record when he was signed to Rawkus. He asked us to be on the B-Side to his record on Sound Clash, and said “Hey let’s do a posse cut.” He had approached me and I said I’m definitely down. He had approached Em, we all came together. That was at DJ Spinna’s house where that picture was taken. There were so many dope emcees in the room that night, and then Spinna through the beat on and it was like “Holy shit. That beat is bangin!”. I don’t think we knew what order we were gonna go in, but it came together beautifully. That record is classic. That record came out to be a classic.
You can pick up Kwest’s new album on Bandcamp below, or Chopped Herring at the following link: Chopped Herring Store: Kwest