A LONG ROAD TRAVELLED:HOW I BECAME A RAP STAR

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Some things you let go some things you hold on to. 

I have been rapping professionally for over 20 years. Most people know me from Smif N Wessun fame. Others identify me as one of the integral founders of the Bootcamp Clik. In 1993 my partner Tek and myself featured on Blackmoon’s classic debut album Enta Da Stage. Tek and I started running around heavy with Blackmoon’s front man Buckshot (Shorty) soon after their first release of Who Got The Props.

 Photo By Sun Bronx

Photo By Sun Bronx

I established a relationship with Buckshot prior to this through his sister Tracey. At the time their first single dropped and the video was released I was working at Coney Island Hospital. Also I was homeless. My mother my brothers and myself were evicted from our East Flatbush private home apartment. We didn’t really have anywere to stay. My Aunties lived in Sethlow Houses but they had a full house. My Dad still resided in Sethlow as well but no one wanted to be there because he was often deemed the bad guy. When my moms left my father we went with moms.

I dropped out of High School and took a college course. A year later I dropped out of that then I stumbled upon this program where you go to class in the early part of the day and you worked in the latter part. All this took place at Coney Island Hospital. It was cool because I was gonna get my GED and possibly get a job there if I applied myself. I did apply myself and I achieved both.

It was a bit difficult considering I was living in squalor. I would stay with friends, family, random women sometimes I slept outside or didn’t sleep at all. Other times I would sleep in the locker room at work. I got caught doing that and was extremely embarrassed. One of my co-workers was standing next to me one day and she said “Darrell is that you?”. Since I didn’t have a home I was unable to take showers as often as I would have liked to so at times I had a foul body odor.

I was the youngest at my job so I used to get schooled by old heads. My uncle Greg ‘Jocko’ Jackson was a staple at the Hospital. I honestly think he had something to do with me getting the job and I didn’t want to disappoint him.  

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A good friend of mine also attended this program but he didn’t make it thru. He failed the test and he was unable to get a job. We were very close. Prior to the program we were an aspiring rap group. I went by the name Mc Steele and he went by the moniker Don Q. He was the ladies man and also one hell of a deejay. He got it honest from his big brother Sha who would sometimes let him get on the turntables at the local club at the tender age of 8. Don Q (Thorne Pearson) was a hood phenomenon. We made a good pair. 

I structured a crew called M.O.S.T. which stood for Major Organized Sound Troopers. I was always mocking the military minded style. I wish I would have applied that mindset in school. M.O.S.T also stood for Man Of Steele but to me the crew was more important than just one man. 

Rockness Monstah (Heltah Skeltah) was part of this rap crew. We lived in the same project houses Sethlow P’s. Other members were my cousin Supreme and Tek of course who wasn’t into rapping as of yet. Tek wanted to be an engineer. His dad played for a band back in the dayand still sits in till this day so he had a bunch of recording equipment and musical instruments in the basement of their Bed-Stuy home. Unfortunately we were too inexperienced so we got frustrated and left that part alone. Tek and I were P.N.C already. Thick as thieves. We was into mad sh*t but thats another chapter. 

At the time there were a few rap groups throughout Brownsville. I wasn’t into battling but would often get challenged by local rappers. Between Rock and myself not to many could hang with us. Rock was a beast on the mic from day one. He went by the name Bummy Jab or JB Rock. With a guy like him on my side I felt unbeatable mostly because I knew he most certainly was.

My very first rap partner Chase. He was from up the hill on Chauncey St. and hustle was in his DNA. He had a vision to be a famous rap artist some might say he had delusions of grandeur, I say he was a big thinker, a great mind. He was always fly and he was very impressionable. One day he walked by me in the lunchroom and said, “you’re gonna be my rap partner” and proceeded to walk by. This took me by surprise because I didn’t really have a big reputation as a rapper. I may have spit a verse here or there but I didn’t see the vision of becoming a rap artist let alone being famous.

Chase was sick with the verses. I always thought he was way better than me plus he had style while I was still being formed. He convinced me that this would work. He got his uncle Dre to manage us. We did our first videos in the famous Coliseum in Jamaica Queens. The Mighty Shirt Kings had a spot in the Coliseum or Cå’lowwhere they specialized in custom graffiti on all sorts of clothing and they also had the early green screen where you can shoot videos. We did two videos which I am happy to say no longer exist. You will not find any copies of them floating around on the internet. This was the days of VHS and Betamax tapes. The last copy I had got ruined when I spilled juice on it. Needless to say Im glad we did it. The experience was priceless but I looked crazy hahaha. That was in the 80’s so can you imagine? 

I did manage to hold on to a photo we took there. Its one of them pics you get at the carnival. It was the two of us on a magazine cover. At the top it read Success with him holding a bag of prop money and me holding a taped up microphone.

We went by the name of The Dynasty Family because his last name ended with D (Dewberry)  and mines ended with the letter Y (Yates). Chase came up with this name, he was swift with concepts. According to him we were gonna be rich with all kind of matching vehicles. I was intrigued plus I was a young soldier glad to get off the block.

The Dynasty Family was short lived. The money wasn’t coming in as quickly as we had hoped for. We did a talent show at a bar and won $50 but Chase was hardly satisfied. The following week was for the grand prize of $100 and Chase didn’t show. I went on to do the show by myself reciting his lines as well as my own and I won the $100. I admit it was a bit degrading but I was on a path and thought it was best to move forward than to look back. 

I started to hone my skills. I began to read more to increase my knowledge and wordplay but mostly I would stay up late nights listening to pioneers like Red Alert, Mr Magic, Marley Marl, Awesome Two and Hank Love to name a few. You had to stay up late to catch most of these guys and I wanted to keep up with the latest hiphop. 

As I got better the Man Of Steele was born. Dre continued to manage me as a solo artist. The M.O.S.T was formed, that was the crew. I did a few talent shows and variety shows which were filmed mostly at BCAT or MNN. I also appeared as a guest on Bobby Simmons (Stetsasonic) video show a few times. I had a video out that Dre paid for out his pocket. Our song consisted of samples from “And The Beat Goes On” by The Whispers blended with The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, which Don Q (Thorne Pearson) created. The name of the song was “Steele Moving Strong”.

Through making frequent appearances at this one particular variety show called The Ron Alexander Show, Dre was able to secure me a record deal. I was excited but I had never seen a contract so I wanted to be careful. Dre was new at this too. He was a good guy but a novice manager but he too possessed that hustle mentality. He did a great job but we had no legal representation. We didn’t really know what we were doing but that didn’t stop us from moving forward besides it was only one song and it was gonna be on a compilation so how bad could it be we thought. 

I was attending night school at George Washington High School in Brooklyn where I met Tracey, the sister of Kenyatta pka Buckshot. She and I both sat in the back of the class obviously uninterested. One day she said, “Was that you rapping on tv?”. I think I might have replied, “no” but Im not sure. Needless to say we became good friends. Tracey mentioned that she likes to dance and at the time I wanted to add dancers to my show. She was down to do it but she always mentioned how her brother was way better than her. She would say, ”you got to meet my brother and his partner”. Then she would talk about all the dynamic dance moves they would perform. 

Dre was able to secure a show at the World Famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem NY. Wow! I was gonna be on Showtime At The Apollo.This was big time the big screen I used to watch this show all the time on my 13” television. I had to do this right. We rehearsed for days in Dre’s mother’s basement. It had wall to wall mirrors top to bottom so we could see how we looked. The dancers were on point but Tracey was adamant about getting her brother and his friend to perform with us. I wasn’t against it but they hadn’t rehearsed with us and we needed this show to be tight. I agreed to it besides I was anxious to meet this dynamic duo.

The day of the show at the Apollo we were ready. I had constructed a game plan that would incorporate Kenyatta and his partner Kasim perfectly. They went by the names KB1 and KB2. They were practicing their routine while the rest of us sat in the green room. The strategy was to have them open up the show then we would come out right behind them with the song and the girl dancers. The show was a hit but it never made it to the big tv screen.They also had talent shows that were not filmed for television. I was a bit disappointed but I just rocked the Apollo, this was a big accomplishment.

When I got the contract I asked Tracey if she thought I could get Kenyatta to take a look at it. I went to see him and gave him the contract. The first thing he said was, “first of all, this is too many pages”. I laughed while thinking howingenious he was as we combed through the lengthy document laden with rhetoric and jargon. Im not sure if he truly understood it in toll but his input was priceless. Needless to say eagerness and curiosity amongst other things led me to sign the contract. I never got any money from the deal but I did quite a few shows one of which was on the same stage with the legendary KRS ONE. Money still wasn’t coming in and I was messing up in school not due to rapping but poor decision making. I was smart I just didn’t go and I paid for it dearly but in the end it all worked out. 

My failure to excel in school led me to be left behind while all my friends graduated on time. I decided to get my act together which eventually led me to the program in Coney Island Hospital. 

 Black Moon - Buckshot Shorty, DJ Evil D, 5FT

Black Moon - Buckshot Shorty, DJ Evil D, 5FT

While I was working at the hospital Kenyatta continued to pursue his music career. He and his partner linked up with the the legendary Evil Dee and Mr Walt of Da Beatminerz who were doing all the production for the group which became known to us as Blackmoon. Evil Dee was the deejay while Kenyatta was now going by Buckshot Shorty and Kasim transformed to 5FT or The 5 Foot Accelerator. I began to attend shows with them as part of the entourage. I was still homeless so I began to spend more time on Franklin Ave where Buck lived. We would stay outside talking and building all night literally to the break of dawn. This would later create a conflict at my job. Buckshot and I began to create a stronger bond so I knew it was time for him to meet my PNC Tek. 

One day Blackmoon performed live on HBO for a Rosie Perez special. When i saw the special I was ecstatic especially when I saw Tek on stage passing out 8”x10” photos of the group. “Damn! I should be there with them”, I blurted aloud as if someone was in the room with me. By this time Tek and I had been up to the record label (Nervous Records) and had met then intern and everything man Andrew Freidman aka Dru Ha. After seeing this special I expressed to Dru Ha that I had to quit this job and I refused to miss any more shows. Dru simply said, “don’t quit your job, its to soon yet”. 

I didn’t know sh*t about unemployment nor did I care. I told him if I don’t quit they’re going to fire me anyway. He was honest with me. There were no expectations, this was going be a challenge and success was not guaranteed . I wasn’t worried because I believed in these guys. I knew where Tek heart was at and Buckshot was an immensely focused visionary while Dru was the responsible voice of reason that helped keep everything together. There was no talk of matching luxury cars or anything of that nature but we were on a path where all this could be possible if you apply yourself. We all applied ourselves and eventually all had matching luxury cars. 

Before we got to the cars the path was rigid as there were many obstacles but it did not deter any of us it only enhanced our bond. Blackmoon was being managed by the legendary Chuck Chill Out. Soon after that relationship was dissolved and Dru began to perform the duty of manager along with his other responsibilities. He and Buck created an incredible bond that would later become DuckDown Management and even later DuckDown Records currently DuckDown Music.

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Under DuckDown Management Dru and Buckshot secured us a deal with their home label Nervous Records which was mainly known for house music. When Blackmoon and Smif N Wessun came on board we changed the game for Nervous records even changed the name and added a hip hop sub-division called Wreck Records. 

In 1993 my partner Tek and myself was featured on Blackmoon’s classic debut album Enta Da Stage. In 1994 using the pseudonym Smif N Wessun Tek and I released our debut single Bucktown”  . In January 1995 we released our debut album “Dah Shinin” and in January 2015 we celebrated the 20th year anniversary of “Dah Shinin”.

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I have been rapping professionally for over 20 years. Most people know me from Smif N Wessun fame. Others identify me as one of the integral founders of the Bootcamp Clik and some never heard of me at all. Either way it has been one hell of a ride filled with ups and downs, twists, turns, failures, successes, gains, losses, blood sweat and tears. In this timespan I have written and performed on five albums and one ep as Smif N Wessun, four albums with the Bootcamp Clik, a few compilations, mixtapes, Soundtracks and countless guest appearances.

In 2000 I started the multi media company Bucktown Usa Entertainment (BTU ENT.) with Cynical Smith. We released two albums with Duckdown Records, a General Steele solo lp titled Amerikkkas Nightmare Part 2 and compilation entitled Welcome To Bucktown. In addition to that I helped develop a few artist which all had releases on BTU ENT. 

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I have been grinding in this hiphop field for almost thirty years and I am grateful for every experience the good and the bad. There are a few things I wish I could do over but the path has been designated by a power higher than me. I have learned much more than I ever imagined yet there is so much more to explore. 

I have just about come to the end of this chapter in my life and its about time to move on. There are a few things I would still like to accomplish in this game but a part of me has lost the love I once had. They say, “If you love something let it go, if it comes back it was meant to be, if not….” you know the rest.

Some things you hold on to some things you let go of. 

Thanks to all my fans, family, friends and all those who helped me be who I have become and for supporting the movement.

I love y’all

God Bless

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