There is no rapper who embodies the word MC more than Big Daddy Kane. In the late ’80s, the Grammy Award-winning rapper broke through from the underground as a member of the greatest rap collective of all time: the Juice Crew. From there, he established a rep as one of the most confident, technically sound rappers to touch a microphone. To this day, Kane — alongside Kool G Rap, and Rakim — is credited for laying down the foundation for what an elite MC should look and sound like.
Despite his legendary status, Kane, who lives in quiet Raleigh, North Carolina, has been relatively distant from creating music. With the exception of the 2017 Back to the Future jazz album he put out with his band Las Supper, the 51-year-old Kane hasn’t unleashed a project in over 20 years. He still performs regularly. And his live performances are unmatched, yielding theatrical elements and dance routines on top of his innate ability to simply rap his ass off. (This weekend he will be performing at the Art of Cool Festival, North Carolina’s premiere music festival.)
Last year he celebrated the 30-year anniversary of his classic debut, 1988’s Long Live the Kane album, at the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island. Earlier in the month was the 30-year anniversary of his most successful album: 1989’s It’s A Big Daddy Thing, Those two albums still stand as one of the greatest one, two punches in hip-hop history, with classics like “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’,””Set It Off,” “Smooth Operator,” and more featured on those LPs.
BDK performed those songs and more at West Adams Block Party at Delicious Pizza in Los Angeles last month. While there, we were able to sit down with the rapper and talk about his legacy, the making of the posse cut “Show and Prove,” and why he likes It’s A Big Daddy Thing more than Long Live Kane, and more.
Check out the interview below.
How does it make you feel when someone says you’re one of the greatest MCs of all time?
I appreciate that. I think that’s beautiful. I mean, I got into this to be recognized that way. It was never about the money. It was really to showcase my skills. If people can respect my work, then I feel like mission accomplished.
I don’t think about it. [chuckles] It doesn’t bother me. When we tour, we pack houses. People come to show love and support music that I’m on, that’s all that matters. Someone’s personal opinion, they’re entitled to that.
I belong wherever people want to put me. If you love my music and want to put me at number one, cool. If you don’t like my music and don’t want to put me on a list, that’s cool as well.
You are constantly compared to Kool G Rap and Rakim. What do you think is your strength in comparison to those two?
Probably sarcasm, speed, breath control. When you mention people like myself, Rakim, G Rap, KRS-One — I don’t think you can’t go wrong with either one of us. I have the utmost respect for them brothers. Whichever one you name, whichever order you put it in, I don’t think you can go wrong. I think we’re all equivalent at both ends of the table.
“Show & Prove” is one of your strongest records. Talk about the posse cut movement back then. What was the making of that song like?
“Show & Prove” was really just getting that work in. Proving some Brooklyn cats worthwhile, except for Shyheim. He’s from Staten Island. Me, JAY-Z, Sauce Money, Ol’ Dirty [Bastard] all got some work in. [DJ Premier] gave us a bangin’ beat and we just did it posse cut style.
We were all in the studio together. We had a lot of fun especially when Sauce Money decided to have an intervention.
What was the intervention?
I can’t tell you. That’s personal, but it was funny as hell. [laughs]
What was your relationship with Primo?
Working with Premier is always fun because it’ll take you a year and a half to get his ass in the studio. [laughs] When you finally get him there, the wait was worth it, man. Because he delivered that fire.
What about ODB?
Ol’ Dirty was a funny brother, man. Real comedic brother. He kept me laughing all the time. I was having a conversation with Raekwon a couple of months ago. I was telling him about him asking for my car keys and how he almost fell down a flight of stairs at my house. Caught himself with his foot and told me, “I told you, I’m the motherfuckin’ drunkin’ master! I master this shit, God. Give me the keys.” [laughs] He was a funny brother, man. I’ll always love him.
The energy in the booth with Ol’ Dirty was crazy. He just brought this whole… super energy and comedic vibe to the project. I thought it was amazing, that’s why I wanted him to anchor it. I was like, “You need to take it home.”
You’re known to bring it in your live performances which includes dance routines. How do you prep?
Just doing stretches. [chuckles] I mean, I’m 50 years old. I gotta stretch my bones. Gotta loosen up.
What’s your favorite song to perform in this day in age?
“Set It Off” is always the song that gives me energy, gives me drive. I know the crowd likes singing “Ain’t No Half Steppin.”
What are some of the fondest memories from the Juice Crew days?
Just being around people who were like family members. People who were like your brothers, sisters, and cousins, cracking jokes and keeping everybody on their toes. [Kool] G Rap would come up with something dope, make me step my game up. I come up with something dope, make him step his game up. Masta Ace comes in — the new rookie. He got something sharp that would make me and G Rap want to step our game up… it was fun.
How were the ’80s compared to what you’re seeing in hip-hop now?
To be honest, I don’t really be around that many younger artists of today, so I don’t really know how they vibing. I will say that I’m cool with Rapsody. She has a lot of love for this era and for my generation. She just has love for hip-hop and she vibes with anybody. She’s a positive energy that I’ve always respected and vibed with whenever I’m around her.
In this era…because of social media pretty much anybody can be an artist. It’s not something where people are looking for record deals or have to be signed, you just make the music and put it out. It’s a lot different now.
This year is the 30-year anniversary of It’s a Big Daddy Thing. How do you feel about that album looking back? How would you compare it to Long Live the Kane?
Well, It’s a Big Daddy Thing was always my favorite. I’ve always liked Big Daddy Thing better than Long Live the Kane. I feel like on Long Live the Kane, I hadn’t really seen much. I could only really talk about what I had seen in the hood. On It’s a Big Daddy Thing, I had a broader spectrum. I just had seen a whole lot more at that time, so I could relate to so many more people.
Are there any rappers now that remind you of yourself?
No. [laughs] But there’s a lot of great rappers out there. I love Rapsody. J Cole is probably my favorite of them all. I like Logic. Kendrick Lamar.
What is it about J. Cole that you like?
I think J. Cole is super lyrical, but he also carries himself really well. He projects positivity.
You were hip-hop’s first sex symbols, right?
I don’t know about being the first. You know, LL Cool J came out before me. Him and Whodini were really the first hip-hop sex symbols before me, so I couldn’t take credit away from those guys. One of the first, you could say that. I mean, that’s cool. Ladies buy records, so you want to appeal to them as well.
You once said KRS-One was the rap battle you wanted. Can you expound on that?
His battle skills are incredible. I’ve watched stuff that he’s done with other people he battled. Direction-wise, I really respect his battle skills. If you want to go at it with someone, you want to go at it with the best. He’s one of the best established artists who knows how to battle.
Do you feel you get the credit you deserve for some of the conscious lyrics you had?
I don’t know. But if not, it’s probably my fault because I be all over the place. I try to speak consciously at times, I try to address the sexual nature at times. I try to just spit lyrical bars at times. I really want to appeal to everyone, but I do find that having a conscious message is important from time to time.
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.
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