Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mass Ministry: An Interview with Minister Too Bad

Mass Minister

    The Massmen have made an undeniable impact on the landscape of west coast hip-hop, having spawned artists like Abstract Rude, AWOL One, DKNoDeal, I Smooth 7 and many more. A book could be written about the entire history of Massmen, but it's origins lie with Minister Too Bad, who founded the crew during his senior year in high school. With his smooth, polished flow and masterful storytelling, 2Bad has gained fans across the globe, with only a handful of songs that have ever seen the light of day. There was a lot of mystery surrounding his history and I was fortunate enough to get to speak with him about his career and the origins of the Mass Ministry.

Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

    Absolutely. I've been into hip-hop for quite a long time. I got introduced to hip-hop around 1983, 1984 and that's when it started coming on the radio a lot more, and you started seeing the videos. That's when Run-D.M.C. was comin' out. My personal experience: I saw this video on TV called Breaking & Entering with Ice-T. Ice-T was from California, from Los Angeles, so when I saw him rapping, that's what made me wanna do it, even though I had seen people rapping before. Then there was this other thing - it was like the Radiotron - they were kind of mimicking what they were doing in New York, but in Los Angeles, downtown. I went there and saw Ice-T again and I saw not only how, you know, he was able to rap, but also the freestyling, coming off the top and making it up as you go along. So I started off rhyming maybe in like 1983-84.

   I was also a graffiti artist, a tagger. I went by the name 2Bad. See, as a tagger, you have to put something that stands out but at the same time something that doesn't take too long to write, you know what I mean? So I was using 2Bad and when I started rhyming, I already had the name. So a lot of my friends and the people that heard me rhyme, they always used to tell me I was good at storytelling. I would always tell these stories. People would say, "Hey, man, it's like you're preaching, the way you deliver." So that's how, on the rhyming side, I became Minister Too Bad. That's how that came about.



I've spoken to Massive a bit about the origins of Massmen with Jack Clark and We Track Studios, but could you talk about the origins of the Mass Ministry and how it all came together?

     I was living in West Covina during my high school years. In my senior year, I created a group called Mass Ministry. I was the rapper. I had a DJ and two dancers. At that particular time, you remember Big Daddy Kane had those two dancers?

Yeah, Scoob and Scrap.

    Right. So we had our own version but we were from California. So I already had Mass Ministry and I was Minister Too Bad. One day, a friend of mine named Cory Brown, he came to my door and told me he knew a guy who had a studio, a guy that was a DJ that's making beats. They were telling this guy about me, how I had all these raps, and that we should get together and try to make some music. The guy they were telling me about was Fat Jack. This was in, I'm gonna say, 1989. I was living in West Covina. Fat Jack was living in Hawthorne. We drove all the way to the studio. Fat Jack barely knew how to use the equipment because his brother, Jack, had just bought it so they could get started. They started a record company and bought the equipment but Jimi (Fat Jack) didn't know how to use it yet. So I went there and it was kinda like an audition. Once he learned how to use the equipment, I was the first rapper he ever recorded. At that point, Fat Jack became part of Mass Ministry because now he's a component with the music. We're not using the instrumentals from Public Enemy and LL Cool J. We have music now.

So I know later on you had guys like Zagu Brown and The Novelist join up. How did that come about? I know Zagu was in West Covina as well.

   There was a city called Azusa that was maybe fifteen minutes away from West Covina. Somehow, Fat Jack and his brother ended up moving to Azusa from Hawthorne. So that became the origin of when we really started cranking out songs. The studio was set up in Fat Jack's garage. In West Covina, there were a lot of rappers, but there were three top emcees. That was Minister Too Bad, Zagu Brown and Mista Grimm. You know, he had that song "Indo Smoke" back in the day? So we had a movement in West Covina, as far as rappers, and everybody started coming to the studio. Once rappers find out there's a studio, everybody starts coming, even people who don't rap. There was always a studio full of people. The name of the studio was We Track but, for some reason, everybody was calling it Massmen Studios. It was Mass Min, like an abbreviation of Mass Ministry. So out of all the people who came through to that studio, at the end of the day, there was a small nucleus, that was the original crew. Novelist lived in Azusa, and he had flows. He was right down the street from Fat Jack so he was in the studio all the time.

So from that point, how did you discover the Good Life?

    Eventually, we had so many people coming through the studio. Fat Jack, he could only do so much by himself. So his brother, Dejon, bought a space in Hollywood and we stared recording there. There was this function that was across the street where rappers would go, an open mic. So that's where we met Abstract.


    It was a family experience, a growing experience. I found out about the Good Life in Hollywood. These guys were saying, "Yo, you guys have some real skills. You know about the Good Life? You gotta come there!" When we got there, we saw this next level of emcees where everybody was on a higher level. I was already a pretty polished emcee, but going to the Good Life let me know that there really was another level and that a lot of the things I was holding back creatively, I could let go and do that because it's all about being original, having your own style, and being different. I was thinking higher. Everything started to unfold when I started going to the Good Life. By the time we got to the Project Blowed, everything was on autopilot.

You had a really deep song with Digiak on the Sounds of the Good Life compilation about your grandmother and how she was like a connection to your roots. Did they approach you to be on that tape? How did that come about?

    At the Good Life, the lady who was running everything, her name was Bea Hall. She called the shots on the rules. There was no cussing, no profanity, no degrading women, and a lot of rappers, if you slipped up, they'd turn the microphone off and you'd miss your session. When I would rap, I always stayed within the guidelines but always entertained as well. She appreciated it and she had this project. She approached me and said, "I have this project. We want to showcase the different styles, different facets of the Good Life, and there's no profanity on it. I know you already have songs with no cussing, so would you like to do it?" And I said, "Yes!" And there was even a little blessing too there, because the artists got paid a little something for doing the song. And we also had some shows, to showcase it, and we'd get a blessing in a little envelope after that. So I was approached for that.

So obviously your main collaborator has been Fat Jack, but have you guys recorded a lot more than what people have heard? Do you guys have like a ton of material in the vault?

    Me and Fat Jack have recorded at least twenty songs that nobody's heard but the thing is, a lot of the songs were on an older type of recording mechanism. They were on ADAT, and back in the day, the beats and recordings would be on floppy discs, hard cartridges, old school stuff. Between him moving, some of the stuff has been misplaced or lost, man. Yet to be discovered, we're still looking for it.


So were you recording for an album? Was that the intention?

   Yes, there was always an intention to record a project to be released. 

Later on, guys like Abstract, AWOL One, and Smooth 7 really ran with the Massmen thing, but you weren't really as present. Were you focusing on other things in your life at that point, and why weren't you really on many songs?

     Well, I was really into it '98 and prior. I had a son in 1992 and then in 1998 I had two kids. I had one in January, and I dunno how it happened, but it did happen [laughs], I had another kid in December. So now I have three kids. My wife wasn't working and I had to make it happen. I was still an emcee but as far as going to the studio, I had to re-prioritize my life to take care of my family.
 
I know you also worked with Jizzm. He told me you guys had done about eight songs. Is that pretty much the only stuff you've done since '98?

   Well, yes, I recorded with Jizzm. The two songs I did for Cater to the DJ 2, "Woe is Me" and "U Don't Know," I recorded those in 2003. Also, you know Big Dutch? He had a project and I was on his album.

Was that the "Step in the Club" song?

   Yes! Yes, it was. That was in 2004, I'd say.



So you really only have about six songs that are out there for most people to hear, but I've talked with rap fans all over the world and people still show an interest in your stuff. How does it make you feel to know that with only a handful of songs you've made such an impact?

     It feels good. I know hip-hop is something that's always going to be with me. I'm always going to be an emcee. I still write. I'm still in motion to get some things recorded. I'm talking about a complete project this time. But as far as the admiration people have, it does make me feel good. There have been times where I've been away, a hundred miles from home, and I'll bump into somebody, and we'll start talking and they'll say, "Your 2Bad? The one who sings 'Demo Stage'?" And I'll say, "Yeah!" And they freak out. You know, in San Diego, maybe three hundred miles south of West Covina. I know some people there who've heard it. Some of the crew, they'll be in other states. AWOL, I dunno where he was at, but he told me he was on a tour a few thousand miles away and they knew about "Demo Stage" and Minister Too Bad. It's pretty dope.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jack Devo Enters the Twitterverse


   While it appears that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over, Jack Devo has started up a Twitter account. Among other things he will be posting updates on an upcoming magazine/compilation tape that is in the works here at beetbak. If you're into such things, check him out and stay tuned!

https://twitter.com/JackDevo762

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A History of Microcrucifiction

"I saw a microphone crucified on the cross..."

    The Masters of the Universe have a very impressive body of work, with their group and solo projects covering a wide range of styles and subject matter. While their true origins lie with the dance crew House Klan and the mythical Retina tape, the first official release by the collective was Microcrucifiction, a spacey 4-track offering filled with tongue-twisting lyricism, advanced concepts, raw battle rhymes and some of the most potent hooks in underground hip-hop. Over the past few years I have interviewed several members of the crew and have collected their comments regarding this classic tape to present A History of Microcrucifiction:

Bennie "Eclipse" Herron: We had talked, as a crew, about doing different projects at different times but, as you know, when you have a large group of people in any type of setting it's hard to get them on the same page to execute. So Microcrucifiction was kind of one of those things where Orko just said, "Hey, I'm gonna take the bull by the horns. Wherever you're at, wherever you're working. If you have studio access, if you don't, we'll find it, but I need a song." I would say half of it he recorded, the other half we collected from other producers, other crews. But it's a true compilation in that he pulled from all different directions. As you probably know, he actually designed the cover, drew it by hand himself. From the inside, the writing that isn't actual typed text, he did that all himself. And that was the first time we came up with Fuk da Industry Productions.

West Kraven: Me and Orko, we're first cousins. His mom is my mom's sister, you know? So I pretty much stayed at his house is what I'm gettin' at. We put a lot of that stuff on 4-track before people had any money to record. We used to stay up all night and make beats, trying to put it together. And as we were putting it together, we incorporated other people. But basically it was all based on our vision then what they did is incorporate their art and talent. But it was primarily focused on the stuff we were doing.

Shamen 12: The groups as a whole were kind of breaking up. DNA stayed tight the longest. Boot Without a Soul had broken up. Black Bradys did as well and so did Lil Rascals. We didn't fall out or nothing as friends. It was just we didn’t know where we were going with this movement. As time progressed, certain cats grew far apart and started to become AWOL from the click. Orko thought since we were slowly diminishing in manpower, it was probably a good idea that we form a mega group with the rest of the remaining dudes and call the click Masters of the Universe. We met up at Orko's house, in the garage, every day, smoking blunts and drinking beer, and came up with the album Microcrucifiction.

Zombie619er: Back then, that's when we was all still goin' to clubs and stuff, battling people and there was a crew called Insomniacs, and their producer, his name was Toss, and he knew we had Masters of the Universe. So I went over to Toss's pad and I had that sample you hear, "Are you afraid of something?" That's from Freestyle Fellowship, and that was one of my favourite songs. And I was like, "Listen to this dude right here!" And Toss was like, "Well, I'ma cut that up." And that's when I made "Scary Images". We wrote it and then after I made that, it went on the master tape to Orko. And then Orko was goin' to Mad Culture's. That's when they had like a connection too. So then Wally (Orko) got the master and Wally was goin' over there.

Bennie Herron: Most of our early music, it was very improvised. We took the idea, the concept of being able to create, as we create, very seriously. I think even down to the projects, in and of themselves, they're improvised to a certain extent. We made the linear notes, we wrote the linear notes. We weren't just talking about improvising on the track or on the phone, you know, my man over here did the artwork, you know what I mean? Going to Kinkos by San Diego State University to print copies. It was very hands on and very on the fly.

Zombie619er: I went over there when they did the first song. That song was Eclipse and Orko ("Loose Leaf n Lead"). You know, a lot of those beats, Wally already had those beats already. He had already made a lot of 'em. So homie was like the conductor. He would go to this studio, he would do Genghis Khan's song, Bassment, you know, he's on that second side of Microcrucifiction. That's how we got that one. Shit, what was they called? (Concrete Connection) Anyways, it was so long ago. Yeah, basically Wally he put a lot of that stuff together, man. I used to go by Peacez, short for Peace iz of a Dream.

Shamen 12: Orko decided to go solo because he was hurt and disappointed in the fact that he put in a lot of work putting out Microcrucifiction. He felt the other cats weren’t putting in as much effort as he was and was simply waiting on Orko to get us on. No one was doing anything except believing in Orko’s dream and that he was gonna be the person that got us signed and our big break. Some of the cats in the crew were living off of the name without putting in any real work. That was when I decided to go solo as an artist myself too.

Bennie Herron: I think it was one of those things where, in our early years, I called us the concept kings because we came up with concepts all the time. As I look back on it, it was almost a gift and a curse because we were so creatively motivated we didn't give time for anything to breath life into it. As soon as we created something, it was over and on to the next thing. Instead of saying, "Let's cultivate this and give people a chance to get behind it and take it over the mountain." I mean Monday to Friday our styles changed [laughs]. That's what we fed off of. We challenged ourselves in that regard. It's not, "Wait 'til my next album." It was, "Wait 'til my next verse, what I'm gonna do!" Microcrucifiction was sort of a product of that. Not even just that tape but Ruckus, better known as West Kraven, he had this idea and we sort of always talked about it like, "You need to roll with this!" We called it horrorcore. Not hardcore, horrorcore. And it was really dark, deep, if you could relate it to a popular music, it'd be like the goth of hip-hop. It was dope. But even that concept, he only did a couple songs and it was on to something else.

    Microcrucifiction was sort of the same thing. We said in the song, "I saw a microphone crucified on the cross," which was speaking on the death of everybody wanting to be a part this art form, it being saturated and bastardized. Something we really loved dying before our eyes. We paralleled that with Jesus Christ and we were, at that time, very into reading what would be considered subversive literature, Behold a Pale Horse, you know, watching documentaries. It was very sort of urban, underground cult, I won't say conspiracy, but below the radar intelligence. We were very in tune to that, so the play on Jesus Christ, and the Illuminati, the microphone, the cross, that was showing our deeper interest to enlighten people and give them an understanding of what's really going on. I think you can hear that in our music. It was knowledge with lyrical skill with a political edge but at the same time we tried to give you bars, lyrics and skills at the highest level.