Last month, we lauded playwright Alice Childress for being the first African-American woman to direct an off-Broadway play.
Saturday, Dec. 16, the Schomburg’s Hip-Hop History Project initiated its new series “Going Way Back” with an exclusive featured interview of Grammy award-winning MC, Big Daddy Kane. Throughout the approximately two-hour event, which was sponsored by the Schomburg Center’s Junior Scholars Program, the legendary lyricist shared many of his life’s experiences with the predominantly youthful audience in the Langston Hughes Auditorium.
Recognized by hip-hop historians as being one of the top five greatest MCs to have ever lived, his art has gone on to heavily influence many of the more recognizable hip-hop artists who followed in his footsteps. Undeniably, his cadence, flow, story-telling abilities and wittiness can be detected all up in Biggie Smalls’, the Gza’s and JAY-Z’s music.
Schomburg’s education coordinator, Kadiatou Tubman, introduced Kane and moderator Havelock Nelson as the packed audience applauded. Looking to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his classic debut album “Long Live the Kane” next June, he reflected on his Bed-Stuy roots, growing up with his father, mother and younger brother on Lewis Avenue and attending Sarah J. Hale H.S., where he maintained a 98 average.
“I took my name from Caine in the ‘Kung Fu’ TV show,” he explained, referring to the popular ‘70s series. “But I spelt it different.”
As a teen, he met an aspiring artist named Biz Markie at downtown Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall.
“He told me to stick with him and he’d help me out,” Kane recalled. “I did some shows with him and he introduced me to Marley Marl.”
He then explained how he joined the astoundingly talented Juice Crew, formed by hip-hop’s first commercial radio personality, Mr. Magic, where he immediately bonded with Kool G Rap, before either secured a recording contract. “I’ll Take You There” was his very first recording, followed by “Get Up and Get Into It.”
The smooth operator also mentioned the artistic competitiveness known as The Bridge Wars of the mid ’80s, which helped popularize hip-hop music during a time when it was only heard on commercial radio Friday/Saturday nights. That period became known as hip-hop’s Golden Era.
“People always wanted to see me and Rakim battle,” he stated. “He’s a great lyricist, but KRS is a certified battle rapper, so that always was my dream battle, but it never happened. KRS and Mrs. Melody helped me move out of my parents’ home. I wrote Shante’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ [BDP-dis] and told KRS. We laughed about it because we was cool like that.”
He also mentioned how promoter Van Silk set up $50,000 each for a battle with Rakim, but it never came off.
During the Q&A with the audience that followed, Jasmine, a teen student, asked his opinion on hip-hop’s evolution from when he started.
“I think it’s beautiful that a lot of young cats can find success and take care of their families the proper way,” he answered. “Also getting the proper notoriety and is respected now as its own genre, but with the rise in popularity, a lot of the cultural aspects have been lost.”
When asked what role the Five Percenters played in his art and upbringing, he recalled acquiring the teachings as a seventh-grader, adding that “through the music, I was trying to include math, or build on certain songs, but in a way where that there’s entertainment to lure you in but there’s still a message, cuz people don’t like to get preached to.”
Then he called hip-hop’s founding father to the stage, where he praised Kool DJ Herc and ordered the audience to stand.
“You don’t understand what’s happenin’ right now,” he said. “Everything that we do, what I’ve done, what we see right now in hip-hop, is because of this man right here. What he created, it all came about because of this brother right here. None of this would exist in the form that we’ve seen it, if it wasn’t for his dream, concept and vision. Thank you, Herc!”
Herc mentioned several friends who recently transitioned, and paid homage to Kane for his contribution to the culture he created, before closing out.