featured interview

Kool Kim 'Stop trying to be stars! There is no money in it.' Just before the Wu-Tang made a name for themselves, there was this other Staten Island rap group that was makin noise with the hit singles 'Blue Cheese' and 'One To Grown On'. The UMC's were Universal, Mystical and Conceptual but they were also The Undisputed Masters of Charizma. Especially the energetic rapper of the group, Kool Kim. Anno 2006, we thought it was time to meet up with him, 15 years after the first successes.

What?s goin on Kool Kim?

Chillin. Trying to come up one step at time. Doing a lot of new things and trying to be an asset to hip-hop and my community.

First of all, what are you doin these days? What are your main activities?

Well what I am currently doing is running a company called QP Apparel. It is a Custom Graphics Apparel company. We take peoples pictures and do a whole graphic environment around it. Or whatever theme they want on almost any sorts of garments. So we do Thermals flight Jackets, Tees everything. We are a relatively new and hip company and I am constantly looking for new talent and motivated people worldwide. We are working on entering the music merchandising phase of our company to help create revenue streams for indie artist.

Seems like you?re always full of energy and projects, what more are you planning to do in the future (outside the music)?

Well I am glad you asked cause it gives me more of a platform to speak about QP Apparel.

After all, we are called platform8470 (laughs)...so please tell us...

This company is important to me and I hope eventually to hip-hoppers worldwide. I am trying to play my roll as an ?Old School? artist. Not be that cat that is clogging up the stream of growth in hip-hop by forcing myself in as an artist. What I am doing is trying to establish another opportunity for us, another way for us to make money in this industry, so that we can maximize our earning potential in this industry.

Aight, cool, now let?s talk history: you were first in the group Universal MC?s (later The UMC?s) and down with the crew Rough House Orchestra in 1989. You guys debuted on the self-titled RHO compilation. Have you seen that album recently, cuz it?s pretty hard to dig up!

Man I haven?t seen or heard that album or song since...Man, I cannot tell u how long. That was one of those things that you do when u are trying to become something. It is one of the road markers that leads to what the UMC?s would eventually become. We met Crispin Blake McRea years ago while doing shows in Uptown Harlem on 125th street at a club called ?1 West? where we performed almost every week. Eventually Cris tried to put out a record and did what he could do. He was like the first cat I can say that tried to do the whole start-your-own-label-thing. He just didn?t have all the pieces together yet. But he did the best he could. In retrospect, I wish I would have been older and as wise as I am now because I could have gotten behind that effort more u know.

What do you remember of those days?

Not much, but then a whole lot.. that is the stuff of books.. you know. Haas and I, both 16 / 17 years old, going into all the other boroughs, trying to find HIP-HOP, word! That was what we were doing, searching for the Holy Grail, in some convoluted sort of way, trying to find the way, the path to becoming something other than fans. We loved the music so much! For some people it takes them beyond fan fare, makes u have to be a do-er. You have to become one with the situation and not just observe it.

L.A. Star was also on that album, the others names are not that known, who were they exactly and are they still in the rap game?

Nah, I am sorry to those cats if they are reading this but I really can?t remember to many of them at all. I just remember them being cool dudes because we did a photo shoot together. I do remember Steppin Strong, cause they were members of our group originally. Or better said, we were all one group at one point and then we just split due to creative differences.

Fast forward to the ?Fruits Of Nature? album, the first singles were ?Blue Cheese? and ?One To Grow On?... could you give us an idea of how ?popular? these records were?

Well, we were number one worldwide for a matter of weeks, which was incredible to me, considering the whole science of the songs and what they really meant. From what we heard and I do stress HEARD we sold about 250K records. And this was right after they stopped certifying records as silver (laughs) so I got no plaques! But the song was very very popular and the beautiful thing about us as a group was that we were non-threatening cause we weren?t on it like that, I mean you know, you work so hard to come from the ?rough streets? and then u get to live your fantasy and u do what?? Be negative with it I thought to myself it would be a disrespect to my mother who raised me and sacrificed much to see that I grew up well to then go on TV and shame her that way by making a fool of myself or disrespecting my race on TV by acting like a fool or lying or acting ignorant.

You once said ?you were pegged as a kid group or this light hearted group?...

When I was growing up and hip-hop used to come on TV (back then hip hop was anything that even vaguely resembled youth culture) we used to PRAY that when they would let someone young or black talk about hip-hop on the news they wouldn?t embarrass the whole community. And of course they would (laughs). You would see guys that you loved to hear rhymin do interviews and speak incoherently or just straight stupid. Or then every black man you saw looked like he was running from the law, or just fresh out the damn group home (laughs) or just torn up, angry, frustrated, and we didn?t want to portray that. Like I said I am proud to have grown up somewhat middle-class in a nice and safe environment.

Not cause it spoke on how TOUGH me and Haas were (laughs) not at all, because it recognizes MY MOTHERS hard work and determination to raise her kids, she did her thing! Me and my brother didn?t go without too often because of this woman, so how would I look getting on stage and fronting like I am a gun man or a drug dealer or something stupid like that. That would be a shame on my soul. To be honest, I would tell the fans to go to hell before I shame my soul. I came close enough to doing that with the second album and I would never do something like that again in my life. But I think that they used that desire and made us out to be clownish. Juvenile and not to be taken seriously. But the fact of the matter is if you really analyze what I am saying in these albums you will find a well-read, introspective person. Trying to reach out to the disenfranchised (laughs) or maybe u just hear two 19 year old kids having some fun.

Due to ?One To Grown One?, Blue Mitchell?s ?Good Humoured Man? became famous again and made it to the Blue Note Breaks Series...who had the record, Haas G?

I think RNS had the break to be honest.

?Fruits Of Nature? hold a lot of Blue Note samples, did you have to pay a lot for sampling those records?

To be honest, we did pay a little money here and there, but I don?t really remember the specs, I wish I could be more helpful with that one.

Actually the sampling was magnificent; you even flipped a Peter Pan sample on ?Never Never Land, whose idea was that?

That was Haas and RNS. They tried to keep me out of the production loop at the time, some internal ?bs?, no drama just everyone trying to establish their roles. My role was to be Mr. Show, to perform at a high level, make people get hyped. Call attention to us. Be the lyricist, go to the open mics and rip cats open, that was my job, so I did it best I could.

So how big was RNS? contribution and how did you hook up with him?

RNS lived in Stapelton and was cool with Haas, who lived in Stapleton as well. So when we got on, we knew we needed to pull RNS in, because he was ill to begin with. So was Haas and so was I. I was one of the first out here making beats cause quite frankly (laughs) I was one of the first cats that actually had the equipment in the hood (laughs) if you wanna call where I grew up the hood! (laughs)

There?s a few Wu references (shoutin ?Wu-Tang?) on the first album, Being from Shaolin too, do/did you know any Wu-Tang Clanners (except for RNS)?

I was one of Meth?s first NY friends when he moved here from Texas. (laughs) That?s my dude and I know a few of the others from a distance. I knew Rakim back when I used to go to IS 61 and him and this dude Aishem (then Forest) used to be partners. I can recall them even coming by when I first had equipment.

How do you look back on the second album ?Unleashed?? Not many people dug it as much as the first one and some suspected you of trying to be gangsta at times, do you agree?

Nah, but I will say this. I don?t want to seem arrogant when I say what I say next, but in fact it is a source of humility for me and a point of failure in my life. I feel like we were faced with the Trials of Job. We took that first album and gave it to the positive forces in the universe and when things got hard, instead of clinging to that which we knew we succumbed to what was going on around us. See as with Job, he was God-fearing and pious and when the devil was allowed to ?touch? Job, he suffered not because of his own failings as much as he was marked...for being a good person. Good people tend to be marked and it takes a lot of strength to remain positive in the face of such overwhelming negativity. We failed to be as strong as Job, when Satan was allowed to touch us. The album we made was honest and real but it was angry and frustrated and venting, which stole away from its sincerity.

The cats that loved us felt that we were trying to front but they weren?t hearing us saying ?Yo? they over here kicking our asses and we are going thru some things and this is what we are speaking on as a result.? I think also that what fans do, which is a horrible thing to artist, is that they have unrealistic expectations of an artist. They hear an album and three singles that get spread out over a year and these singles are coming off the SAME ALBUM, with the same thought and vibe from the date it was made. But in that year all sorts of things are happening to this artist. For me I had kids, Grandmoms had passed, we were living in a damn tenement with no windows. NO DOUGH, they never paid us, we could barely keep the damn tenement we were living in. Then I started smoking weed and drinking, wow, I can?t even believe that was me at one point. So when you turn around and have cats that have NO idea what you?ve been through tell you what you were ?trying? to do! (laughs) It is frustrating.

Did you leave Wild Pitch before or after the release of the second album?

No, we were still with WP.

What exactly happened at Wild Pitch?

Stu was jerking us. Our family got tired of watching what he was doing to us. So they beat him up.

What exactly happened with the third, unreleased UMC album ?Shadow Government??

That wasn?t a UMC album. To be honest I don?t particularly care to speak on Shadow government. ?They?re? watching every movement.

Who were the Ill Demonique Click and who founded it?

When we had beef with some other rappers we formed on our crew and the IDC was formed, which I PERSONALLY hate in retrospect. Primarily because it just furthers that point about us turning from the positive and embracing the negative.

Is ?Rock The Ruff Raps? the only single released by the Click?

No, not really. That was 3.2.1. which was my cousin Cisco and Drew Black. At the time they were my prot?g??s and we were trying to give the whole ?own-your-own-label? thing a go. This is before it became such a popular method or making it in the industry.

You also released a single as Fly Guy Kool Kim, ?You Gotta Know?, was that your first solo 12???

Yeah, sort of. I really was just doing what I did. I love making music and I try to keep my name out there from time to time. (laughs)

The single was produced by Hasaan (Haas G) but the ?group? The UMC?s did not exist anymore, why didn?t you keep the name?

Again, it was just a project. See we make music, it ain?t like we are a superhero group. (laughs) or the ?wonder twins? (laughs)...we make music. That was just some of the music we were making, you dig?

In 2001 you returned with ?The Haz Been?, how would you compare that album with the earlier UMC releases, on a strictly musical level and on a business level (putting it together, label talks and recording it)?

It doesn?t compare. It was just another musical venture I was doing. Me and my oldest son, Killa Todd, put that album together. He was like 12 at the time. That album was outstanding if you ask me, way ahead of it?s time. I put it out myself so, you know, that was (laughs) hard to say the least so it really didn?t sell and I didn?t really care. It was hot, I love it, and if you missed that one, you missed a fun album. You should see me perform songs from that joint...now that is some real fun.

We were pleasantly surprised to see you on the School Of Emceeing vol 1 (phmusic) compiled by Dumi Right of Zimbabwe Legit (2003), with the track ?You and I?, how did you end up on that compilation?

While I was living in MD (Maryland, ed.) I ran into some of the cats from Zimbabwe Legit. They were doing a comp, so I let them take that song and put it on there. I was a little disappointed cause they didn?t really keep me in the loop so I could have done more in the way of support the effort. But you know I don?t mind throwing a track out there and hopefully if it furthers those brothers chances of achieving their dreams and goals then I am happy for that.

A quick word on Haas G, do you talk often these days?

Yeah, ever since I moved back to NY, I see him much more often. We have since built on working on some other things that will work for us.

He produced 50 Cent?s ?Magic Stick?, did you congratulate him with the millions? And does he have a big house in California now?

Naah! (laughs) But he is doing aiight, he?s a working producer, which is what that brother really wanted for himself. And I am happy for that. But he has a long journey to go before he achieve the greatness inside of him. I am looking forward to him reaching the next level of his growth as a producer and a man...he is my bro... and I love him.

Do you listen to a lot of rap music these days?

I hate rap music. I am a hater and I am proud of that fact...(laughs). Seriously I am very disappointed in the youth. I hate the fact that they aren?t even speaking to each other honestly. It?s like y?all ain?t being honest with each other. See I don?t expect to relate to hip-hop today, because I am 34 years old. I am not really supposed to relate to the youth, they have their own issues and their own challenges, but at least they are supposed to communicate to each other their plight. And I feel that most of them are just trying to SELL!

So to put it in the words of the UMC?s, who?s ?Blue Cheese? these days?

Everyone that has, for fear of not fitting in, let our music down, by pandering to what they think is the new heat. Instead of really just listening to good music and standing behind that. This industry was built on GOOD MUSIC! Not on fluff! And that is why this music bubble is starting to pop.

What was your first rap record?

That I bought?? (laughs) Damn, this song called ?The Rappin Duke?! Hell, if any of your readers knows what the chorus is, I?ll send them a personalized custom Graphic Tee from my company...for real!

What music other than rap are you listening to?

Soul, House, old school rap!

I heard Kool Kim?s birthday parties appear to have quite a reputation, can you confirm that?

(laughs loudly) Yeah, well I have had some good ones, but believe me, I had some real burgers too (laughs) some real looser parties too (laughs loudly), but yeah I do my thing! The ladies come out and the fellas come out and we have some big fun! I am about having a good time u know, no judgements and stuff, just havin fun. So people tend to relax around me cause they know I don?t care. I aint looking down on anyone, I just wanna party.

You were called ?NY Undercover Lover? and ?Undisputed Masters of Charisma?, haven?t you lost your touch by growing older?

In some ways, because I am more grounded and I want do other things u know. But I am always going to be NY?s Original International Lover (the greatest Lover of all time)

Who was the ?NY Undercover Lover? exactly?

Well the correct name is (scrapes his throat) NY?s Original International Lover or NYOIL for short. It was an internet persona I had created when I first started going on this website called Black Voices. It began as a pastime. But then I started to observe this social dynamic that sort of blew my mind. I learned so much and I also became this... ultimate lover (laughs) I can?t really get into that right now but let me say this, you know that movie ?Hitch?? That dude was like a third of what NYOIL is, you know. James Bond, he was another third (laughs) I mean this dude, and I speak about him in the third person because he was just someone else, is on the next level! I need someone to help me write about this guy and things he and I did together... I can tell you about a time I was in the middle of an orgy in the ?SoufEass? section of DC. It was the most surreal thing I ever saw.

You told me earlier you lived in Maryland, how?s life there?

It was wonderful but it is hard to be so far from home and the people that know and love you. When things get hard you don?t have anyone to help u. So we decided to go home, because I was lonely.

Being a veteran in the game and having been through a lot, what?s your advice to newcomers in rap?

Stop trying to be stars! There is no money in it. Be good musicians. Be a good lyricist. Be good people. Work on your craft so that at the end of the day when you don?t become this super star you can be PROUD of your music! And when you drive in your car your kids wanna hear YOUR music and they SING YOUR SONGS! And they will love them because they will be proud of their mom or dad. Trust me it will mean more than any of these PROPS u get today, this is the quality that endures. Also don?t forget to make money. Stop getting involved with all these pie-in-the-sky schemes people try to get u into. Be careful for bottom feeders.

Last question: can we expect a UMC?s reunion?

We are working on something.

Shout-outs?

Yeah, I want to make a shout out to the people all over the world that I never got to meet or perform for. I whish y?all could have seen us in our prime, we were some ill dudes. I want to say peace to all the people who loved us and felt we sold them out on the second album. Be merciful to your boys, the same world that conspires to crush you ...had already been doing a job on us...I want to shout to all the DJ?s! Man, I am in the clubs all over the world and I would like to hear y?all play ?Blue Cheese? more often. I really love it when I hear that song! (laughs) And finally a shout to all the European hip- hoppers, y?all have done some great things with this music and I enjoy watching the different tangents you guys take the music on. I have nothing but love and respect for you all. I pray for your success in all your endeavours and I hope we can all vibe one day to the same beat...

UMC?n is a new way of being!

 

POSTED 02|01|2006
conducted by cpf

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