Shabbazz the Disciple recently played a seminal show at Brixton Jamm, London on behalf of new Hip Hop promoters 'Educated Guests'. Anyone in attendance will tell you that it was a truly legendary performance; we caught up with him while he was in town to discuss his origins as an MC, working with the RZA and his experiences with Hip Hop across Europe...
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I'm wrapping up a couple of projects. The second 'T.H.U.G Angelz' album is done but I'm waiting for Hell Razah to heal up. I got a couple of solo projects but they're not done until they're out, you know how that goes. Can't give any titles out; basically I'm working a lot like that on the group projects and the solo stuff.
There may also be another Gravediggaz album in the near future but obviously RZA's pretty busy with 'The Man with the Iron Fists' so everything is on hold for now.
Awesome, have you recorded any tracks for that project?
Yeah RZA called me and I went to his crib and recorded a few songs.
Where else have you been playing recently? Anywhere else in Europe?
Yeah, I've just finished up a European tour, the last show was in Paris with DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles but I extended it for this London show when Educated Guests reached out.
Before that I was in Switzerland with Lloyd Banks and I also did a show with my cousin Freestyle from the Arsonists. Educated Guests hit me up for this London show and I was like 'let’s do it'.
When was your first trip to London with music? What are some of your memories of that trip?
The first time was in the ‘90s but I haven't been out here for about 12 years so it’s long overdue. I was supposed to come out here in 2003 but I had a passport situation halfway through the tour so I had to wait about a week for that to clear up and that week was when I was supposed to be in England, my cousin Freestyle from the Arsonists came out and represented but I was only able to rejoin the tour in Amsterdam and I ended up missing all the UK shows.
Have you had a chance to check out much Hip Hop from the UK?
Definitely, I've been working with UK artists from the beginning, I started working with people like Baby J in the 90's, and we put together that 'Birth' album back then. I worked with a lot of UK artists in that era because I was touring all the time. I'm definitely into the scene over here!
Also I'm definitely into the jerk chicken and the porridge, that what I do back home in Brooklyn so it reminds me of Brooklyn out here man.
What were some of the first international shows that you played?
I first went on the road in about ‘96 / ‘97; I went to Germany with Gravediggaz (Me, Poetic, Fukwan, Omen and DJ Diamond J). Prince Paul was already doing something else and RZA was the nucleus of a lot at that time so they left us to hold down Gravediggaz for them on that tour, we did 15-18 shows all around Europe that tour, it was crazy! The love was there it was a great experience.
Taking it back, at what point did you realise that rhyming was something you wanted to pursue?
The first encounter I had was when I was eight years old, my mother was having a baby shower and they had us perform 'Rappers Delight', me and two of my friends. It wasn't my song or anything but I remember really liking the feeling of everyone showing love, I had already fallen in love with Hip Hop anyway because my mother and uncle used to play the music round the house all the time.
When I was thirteen my uncle handed me my first mic and that was it, that’s when I felt it. He'd already seen it from me freestyling about the place and one day he handed me the mic and that was it! He used to have all the MC's come round and he'd put his speaker by the window and there would be an audience outside listening to the freestyle session, that day when they all came down he handed me the mic and that was it, that was the moment. I've been going ever since, everybody supported me from then on, they saw something in me I couldn't see.
Are there any artists from Red Hook / Brooklyn as a whole that you would recommend to our readers?
Yeah definitely, you've got True Born and Get Hooked Entertainment; they remind of the mad mob when we were running around before I met RZA, they've got that kind of energy going on now, definitely look out for them. Also Dust Smittle; he got the charisma and the street savvy, watch out for him; he's making noise too.
Have you ever been into production?
Yeah, I've been real into it but I don't sample. When I was 12 years old I would walk around the block with a keyboard, people would get me to play songs on the spot and I would just do it, it wouldn't matter what it was it could have been the theme of a TV show or a tune off the radio; I’d be able to learn it on the spot, I was like Stevie Wonder with the keyboard. I used to play the keyboard and beatbox for all the MCs in the neighbourhood before I even rhymed. It was just Hip Hop, it was all in my spirit.
I still play the keyboard but because I travel so much I don't have a chance to sit down and play as much but I have a new video out now called 'Thug Angel' which is a song that inspired the T.H.U.G Anglez group with me and Hell Razah, I produced that song, I played everything.
You've just been out in Paris, did you get to check out much French Hip Hop while you were there?
Of course, I collaborated with KAOT'F, we have a video out together called 'Black Pages' and we have a remix for the video that’s being edited as we speak. The first video was done in New York but this one was done in Paris. I've done songs with Shuriken and DJ Chaos from IAM, those are my family from Marseille.
I've collaborated with a lot of artists from Germany as well, I've been doing that since the mid-90s. I used to come home to Brooklyn and I'd be listening to all these artists rapping in other languages and people would be like 'what the hell is that?'. I'd be riding through the ghetto in Brooklyn listening to a French or German rapper and people would be like 'that shit is hot'. I was promoting overseas artists way before people were working with rappers from other countries. I had a track with five different languages on it; I was the first one to do that.
How do you think your style has changed since you released 'The Book of Shabazz'?
It got more and more cinematic, more motion picture style. It's still me though it just got more advanced, it’s still the disciple style, I teach you the streets through the scriptures, I make the hood biblical.
What are your memories of recording your verse off 'Diary of a Madman' for the Gravediggaz album?
I remember RZA called me and told me he had a project that he wanted me to get on. I jumped in a cab and made my way to the studio, it was mad foggy on Brooklyn bridge, it was like October. It felt like a movie because it wasn't real, it was the opportunity that I had been waiting for!; so on the way there I was nervous. I got there and RZA was in the control room, he told me he had a beat in mind and he played the beat for 'Diary of a Madman'.
As soon as I heard the beat I asked for a piece of paper, he gave me a pad and I began writing my rhymes in red ink, it was like blood all of my rhymes were in blood red and any mistake was like a blood puddle, I was bugged out at the time with the lyrics. I wrote my verse real quick and then RZA called everyone into the room. RZA noticed that I was done and asked me to spit what I had, I started spitting my verse and I just blacked out while rhyming. RZA was really impressed and he got me to record the verse straight away.
I did the verse in one take. I was nervous the whole time so I just lost it; it was like I could do this or I could blow it, so I just went for it and it worked. It was my time; it was all love. When that song came out everyone accepted me into this world of Hip Hop. I am forever grateful to RZA for that opportunity and to my cousin Freestyle of the Arsonists who played my demo to RZA in the first place; I’ll always be grateful to both of them.
I don't know where I'd be if that day hadn't happened, the world loves me for that verse to this day. I'm grateful to my cousin for being humble and playing my demo to RZA, a lot of dudes wouldn't have even played him my tape. I am grateful for the rest of my life for that.
How was it shooting the video for that song?
That was crazy, because my family was there to support me. I felt like it was really happening, the song had been number one on Hot97 for like 3 weeks; it was a big thing at that time! I felt like I'd done it!
Just to bring that record back to my uncle and have him hear it for the first time, playing it out on his turntables, I'd never had so many goosebumps. That’s all I ever really wanted to do, to be able to have my record on wax and hand it to my uncle, and at that moment I did it, that was a great feeling.
Being on the Radio was one thing but to be able to hand that record to my uncle who had been the first one to believe in me and to see that smile on his face was amazing.
Doing the video was crazy because it was Hype Williams first video! He went on to do all of Missy Elliott’s etc videos after that. It was a real dope experience to do the video with him, I liked the guy he was mad cool. When he did 'Belly' I was like 'Wow, I've worked with this guy before!'. I remained grounded and played my position, my bigger brothers just shepherded me through the whole thing.
Taking it back what is your earliest memory of Hip Hop culture in general?
I was a little kid in the house, I don't know how old I was but I must have been under five years old. My mother and my pops used to always play music all around the house; my uncle Younga Nut became really influenced by that and he'd play all the Hip Hop.
He became the first DJ of the family and he's still going now! He's booked up to play every weekend and he's still advancing with it. Hearing him play Hip Hop back in those days is one of my earliest memories of the music.
Finally, any shout outs you may have?
Shouts out to everybody!; Educated Guests for having me, you guys for the interview, the restaurant I ate the oat porridge, jerk chicken and peanut punch at in Brixton yesterday, everybody in Red Hook; they already know who they are.. ain’t nothing changed, new projects possee forever and my family!
Words: Aaron Jackson
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