Special Ed Speaks On Producing For B.I.G. & ‘Pac, His Career & Today’s Hip-Hop [Interview]
Edward Archer, better known as Special Ed, spoke with Ericka Blount about his Unsung episode, his rise to the top, working with B.I.G. & ‘Pac, and more.
In 1989, Edward Archer, better known as Special Ed, a Jamaican teenage heartthrob with a curly-haired flattop hit the rap scene at the tender age of 15. The only solo rap artist that had made noise at such a young age at the time was LL Cool J at age 17 with his first single on Def Jam “I Need a Beat.” Special Ed was so young that signing him at age 15 had to be sanctioned by the courts.
A master of the flow, Ed would go on to release two albums and go multi-platinum before the age of 18. But most millennials only know who he is from Rick Ross’s cover of his classic hit, “I’m the Magnificent,” a reggae-influenced cut, featuring a loop from the Rocksteady classic “(007) Shantytown.” Even Shaquille O’Neal would cover his club anthem, “I Got it Made,” on his album Shaq-Fu: Da Return. But that didn’t get him into the consciousness of millennials.
Ed hopes this Sunday’s episode (May 27) of TV One’s Unsung, where he’s the featured subject, will school young folks who don’t fully understand his contribution to hip-hop.
With clever rhymes that belied his age, he hit the scene with his first single, “I Got it Made,” with a video of his friends dancing in front of his Brooklyn High School in Flatbush:
“I’m talented, yes I’m gifted,
Never boosted, never shoplifted,
I got the cash, but money ain’t nothin’,
Make a million dollars every record that I cut and,
My name is Special Ed and I’m a super-duper star
Every other week I get a brand new car,
Got twenty, that’s plenty yet I still want more,
Kinda fond of Honda scooters, got seventy-four
I got the riches, to fulfill my needs
Got land in the sand of the West Indies,
Even got a little island of my very own,
I gotta frog, a dog with a solid gold bone”
His first album, Youngest in Charge, with the help of producer Hitman Howie Tee and DJ Akshun, vaulted into the R&B Top 10 and would go gold. Special Ed was on fire. But after his second album, Legal, and his third album, Revelations, he largely disappeared from the scene, with the exception of the 1994 hit “Crooklyn Dodgers” for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film, Crooklyn.
After suing his label, Profile Records, for what he claims was fudging numbers and withholding money from him, he says he was blackballed, and they were shelving his projects.
Special Ed talked to Okayplayer ahead of the airing of his Unsung episode about rapping, producing for Biggie and Tupac, and today’s hip-hop, among other topics.
Okayplayer: You talked about in the Unsung episode how Jamaican artist Yellowman and hip-hop artist Jimmy Spicer influenced you…
Special Ed: Around that time they had records out and they were the closest thing to rapping. Some of it was almost comical. It was humorous in a dancehall style. More like rap than anything [out] at the time.
OKP: You’re a great storyteller. I know you talked about studying limericks in school on the episode. Who influenced you in terms of storytelling?
SE: All of the early rap, the mixtapes. Records like Jimmy Spicer’s “Super Rhyme,” Sugar Hill Gang, Soul Sonic Force, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel. When I heard them that’s where I said I like this. I can do this.
OKP: You went to Samuel J. Tilden and Erasmus high school. There were a bunch of artists that came out of Erasmus like Clive Davis and Barbra Streisand. Were there any artists there when you were there?
SE: The only person that was there at Erasmus when I was there was Queen Pen and Michael Rappaport. He was the only white kid in the school.
OKP: [Laughs] That explains a lot. Was he getting beat up?
SE: I don’t even remember. There were a lot of people getting beat up. I guess at some point they just let him ride. At some point, they stopped beating him up ‘cause he was cool [and] he got some passage to go to school.
OKP: Talk about your first tour touring with Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and Big Daddy Kane. Were there any memorable moments or funny stories?
SE: Yes, a lot of them. Being on stage with Run-DMC on the same tour—that was a vision, a premonition [I had] when I was younger. I saw Run-DMC’s success and I said I can do that. I was already rapping. I was like if they can get big like that and make that kind of money I want to do that too. Just to be on tour with them was amazing. One of my first tours was with Public Enemy and LL Cool J and it was just the experience being in an arena playing for thousands of people. It was a blessing.
OKP: Anything crazy happen? You don’t have to name names.
OKP: You were 16 at the time in a burgeoning culture known as hip-hop. What was that like?
SE: I was already accustomed to a fast pace from living on the Ave. [in Flatbush]. It was just really about paying attention. My lifestyle in Flatbush groomed me for this and to not be distracted by everything.
OKP: What did the kids in school say when you were going on tour with these big-time artists?
SE: It was pandemonium.
OKP: You needed a bodyguard?
SE: No, I knew people. I was from the neighborhood. Every school I went to was within walking distance.
OKP: How did you deal with all the girls?
SE: One at a time [laughs].
OKP: I didn’t know that you produced for so many people, Ed. You were behind the boards for songs by Tupac [Shakur] and Biggie [Smalls] and Junior Mafia.
SE: Yeah, three [songs] on Junior Mafia‘s album and two on two different Tupac [Shakur] albums. This is from socializing, we all knew each other coming up. I knew them separately through six degrees of separation. After my first album, one of the first things I did was buy some equipment because I wanted to reinvest in the business. I liked producing. I liked to sit there with Howie Tee. I just watched him and I bought all the same equipment he had. I thought I could be like Howie Tee, being a producer.
OKP: How did you meet Tupac and Biggie?
SE: I met Tupac from being on tour with Digital Underground and Queen Latifah. We met when he was with Digital Underground on the road before he put records out. With Biggie, I went to school with one of the members of Junior Mafia, Klepto. He came through to the lab and he was like Biggie’s gonna put us on. I had submitted some tracks for Biggie’s album and didn’t get any placed. When Klep came through and said he was doing the Junior M.A.F.I.A. album, I was like OK, just come through. Sure enough, they came through and camped out.
OKP: How did you get close to Biggie?
SE: By him and Junior Mafia coming around and recording. We spent time in the studio and just talked. We had a mutual respect for each other, so we were cool like that. Very cool guy, good spirit, very creative and artistic. We had a good experience recording the songs for the album.
OKP: What were the songs that you made for Biggie’s album?
SE: “Oh My Lord,” “Murder Onze,” and “Lyrical Wizardry”.
OKP: What about for Tupac’s album?
SE: “Strictly 4 my N.I.G.G.A.Z.” on that same album, and “Open Fire” for the album, R U Still Down?.
OKP: When all that was going down with East Coast/West Coast, what were you thinking?
SE: I was thinking it was very unfortunate that people can conjure up this stuff from nothing really, just to make controversy.
OKP: In the Unsung episode you talk about how you invested in real estate in New York. At the time you did that, how old were you?
SE: I started at the age of 18 with all of that. I was studying before that. I liked to look at the ads, the sales and see what stuff was worth. It turned into a passion for me.
OKP: Why do you think you’re unsung?
SE: I did this episode primarily for the reason of education. I know there’s a whole new generation in hip-hop. I did it to educate them—to give them a lesson in who I am and what I have contributed to hip-hop. A lot of them don’t care to know. I did this as a reminder.
OKP: I didn’t realize Rick Ross had remade “I’m the Magnificent.” Did he come to you for your approval?
SE: No, he had some inspiration from the song and the lyrics as far as the vibe, so he made his rendition of the song. I loved what he did. At the end of the day when another artist shouts me out, that’s love. That’s showing me that I meant something to you.
OKP: What do you think about where hip-hop is right now?
SE: I feel like hip-hop, right now, is at a point where it’s more lucrative and there’s more opportunity to go into different areas and that’s great. But we still have to get back to ownership with what’s going on and ownership of who you are and what you’re giving out. Accountability to what you do offstage matters as well.
OKP: So now you’re touring with Monie Love, Chubb Rock, Dana Dane and Kwame?
SE: Yeah, we have a supergroup called The Alumni, [and] we are just all rocking together onstage. It’s electrifying.
Tune in to Unsung on TV One on Sunday, May 27, at 9:00 p.m EST / 8:00 p.m. CT, and learn all about this hip-hop master during his prime.
Ericka Blount is a journalist, professor, and author from Baltimore, Maryland. Her book ‘Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of Soul Train’ is available on Amazon. Please follow her (and us!) on Twitter @ErickaBlount.