Robbie: What made you want to rap?
Al’ Tariq: I wanted to rap at an early age, growing up in The Bronx. The first time I heard Spoonie Gee [starts reciting ‘Spoonin’ Rap’] I wanted to do it bad. I always sang and act and wrote plays and movies at a young age, but what made me think it could be real was I went to school with a young gentleman named James Todd Smith. We attended this school called Christopher Robbins Academy, we were both in ninth grade together. I had gone down to North Carolina to live for two years with my family and sister. I was down there in the fall, my brother came to see me, he was like, ‘Look at this record that Jay made.’ I couldn’t believe it. That was the moment. ‘He did it? I could do it!’ When I heard ‘I Need A Beat’ it was the fall of 1984. At them times, I was rhyming but I wasn’t out there rhyming with everybody. It was something I did on the low. Basketball and girls was all I thought about. I wanted to be an entertainer anyway, but rhyming was probably the fourth or fifth thing on that list. I had other pictures for what I thought I was gonna be at the end of the day.
So you decided to make a record as well?
Both of us are Capricorns and have that singular focus. That was the time for me. Seeing that he did it, this dude I went to school with, I used to rhyme with. I was in his grandmother’s house, in the basement, being around him. Being around the original Cut Creator, we were all in the school together. I was in ninth grade but I was dating a junior who was probably the hottest chick in the school. It was like a battle. I played on the basketball team so it was like, ‘Nah, Jay can’t be better than me.’ Not no hate or no jealousy, but ‘I know I’m that good too.’ That drives me still to this day.
What was the next step?
In North Carolina I was in a singing/rapping group for a year and a half. We went around winning a bunch of talent shows and all types of shit. That’s how I stayed with the music. Then when I came back to New York, I was sixteen and I was still rapping but I wanted to model, I wanted to act, I wanted to sing. But the universe has a way of pushing you towards what you’re meant to be doing. When I was about seventeen, eighteen I got hooked up with some people that were like, ‘You’re talented, you should do this music.’ This kid named De’Anthony, who knew people in the Flavor Unit, was loosely connected to them, he wanted to get my stuff and show it to ‘em, so I started working with him and going to the studio. He brought me to Big Beat Records and they were talking about giving up a little bit of money for the songs that I had done, but I went and told Juju and them. We were at some club and I was like, ‘Yo, Ju. These dudes wanna give me $50 – $60,000 to do an album.’ He was like, ‘That’s nothing. I can get you 250 [thousand dollars].’ Because he was around the whole Native Tongue thing. He knew Tip, he knew the Jungle Brothers, he knew De La and he knew Chris Lighty, and things were happening with them. ‘You don’t have to take that deal, I’ll get you a deal. Let’s start going to my house and doing some songs.’ So we start going to his crib, demo’ing songs. We did a bunch of song together, hanging together, partying every day at my cousins crib – girls and weed and beer and music – just breaking night. We would stay up all night and then sleep all day.
How had you met Juju and Les?
I went to school with Ju at the school called Newtown, he left and went to this other school, and that’s where he met Psycho Les. He and Les met at an alternative school for kids who had a poor attendance record or whatever it was. Both of them went to school with a guy who I used to call my family and we used to say we were cousins. His name was Ronnie Walters. He used to see them in school everyday, battling. They would bring their tapes of beats they made the night before and play them at school. At first they were adversaries, then they got to the point where they respected each other and they started to work together. So he told Ju, ‘Yo, you know my cousin? He’s an MC, he’s better than anybody around the neighborhood.’ So he brought Juju to the house where we stayed at, my aunt’s house, and they listened to me rhyme and we started hanging at the house everyday after that. This is like ‘89.
They told me that Chris Lighty had called them and wanted them to do music for this kid that he was about to put out – Chi-Ali. They started working with him, so they would come and tell me about what they were doing in the studio. One day they came and it was like a funny vibe, and Les finally says to me, ‘We gave Chi ‘In My Room.’ ‘In My Room’ was one of my favorite joints on my demo at that time. What I thought was they gave him the beat, so I was like, ‘Damn, I love that beat. You know what? Fuck it, we’ll find another beat for the song. Y’all use the song and that’s gonna help the whole situation.’ So Les says to me, ‘Nah, we didn’t just use the beat. Juju gave him your rhymes too.’ We were in the front of my cousin’s house, it was a sunny day and I turned around to Juju, I was like, ‘Yo, how are you gonna give him my song, man?’ He was like, ‘Yo, you didn’t copyright that shit!’ That was the beginning of a crazy relationship that we’ve had for years. I always look at that as the beginning.
How did you react?
I wanted to do something physical, but I have always been a thinker, especially when it comes to fighting and beefing and all that stuff. It’s gonna be the last resort for me. I’ve had times where I’ve lost control and done some things that I’ve regretted, but for the most part I think first. Les saw the look on my face, so Les said to me, ‘Don’t even worry about it. I’mma take you to meet the nigga Chris tomorrow.’ So the day after Les took me to meet Chris Lighty. He was like, ‘Yo Chris, this is the dude that wrote ‘In My Room’ and all that shit Ju been letting you hear.’ Chris was like, ‘Yo, I didn’t know those were your songs and that niggas didn’t have permission. Why don’t you come and write some joints for him, I’ll give you some money.’ I was like, ‘Yo, bet!’ That was my way in. It makes me proud, Les and Chris are the reason that I have my career right now. If Les hadn’t have brought me to Chris and been on some fuckwit shit and moving like Juju was doing, you may have never heard of me. Chris giving me the chance that he gave me? I owe everything to him.
So he gave you a writing credit?
I’m on the album for writing credits, my publishing I didn’t get though. I didn’t know no better at the time. I got maybe $7,500, which at that time was crazy to me. I was a nineteen year old kid, plus the fact that I was on the album on a big song with Dove from De La Soul, Phife, Dres, me and Chi-Ali. All of those dudes were huge.
What happened to Ju and Les shopping your demo at this stage?
This is a story I got from Chi-Ali’s dad, his name was Stan, and he was our manager at the time. He told us Relativity heard ‘Let The Horns Blow’ and they knew who everybody else was except me. They were like, ‘Who’s this dude rhyming?’ They were like, ‘That’s Fashion, he’s been been writing Chi’s songs and he’s the rapper that runs with The Beatnuts.’ So they were like, ‘Holy shit! So they’re not just a production team? They’ve got a rapper? Let’s get them too.’ That’s what got us our deal. Chris was gonna have The Beatnuts as his in-house production team, but Relativity were like, ‘These dudes can be a group themselves.’ The Intoxicated Demons EP started out as my solo album. It was supposed to be me rhyming and them producing it and them on a couple of songs with me. So if maybe there were gong to be ten songs on the album, just to give it a number? Six would be solo songs and four would be me with me and Ju and Les. When I went away to jail for eleven months, we hadn’t finished it. The Beatnuts kept making songs and they did joints without me. The label was like, ‘Before he even gets out, let’s put this stuff out.’ ‘Reign of the Tech’ was getting a good response and people liked it, so they put that shit out and it blew up and that started the whole ball rolling. It was on from there.
Were you glad they kept going or were you frustrated that you were missing out?
I wasn’t frustrated at all, back then I didn’t take the shit so seriously. I was such a happy-go-lucky person, I loved doing music, I loved girls – I really wasn’t focused on my career. I was just living in the moment at that time. So when I went away to jail, just the fact that they kept everything going and the fact that my crew had this big song and shit? It was good to me. Things started going sour when I came home, cos it turned into this whole Spanish thing and this whole Corona thing and all these people were hanging around now that weren’t around before. It used to just be the three of us and now it was all these dudes from Corona and it just turned into this other shit. People had their opinion about if I should be in the group or not, it was racial shit, it was just crazy after that, man.
Was V.I.C. one of the new guys on the scene?
V.I.C. came in while I was in jail, I never knew Vic like that. He was another producer from around. He was a little older than all of us, but I didn’t really know him. When I came home he was around and he was on one song, ‘World’s Famous,’ and I was like, ‘Wow. This is crazy!’ But it was all meant to be, when I look back at it now. But at that time? It was madness. I hated it. I hated the whole Spanish and black shit. They were like, ‘We made this song and you weren’t on it.’ But they knew I was looked at by the label as one of the main parts of the group, but as far as Ju? Ju never liked that. Ju always wanted to be the mouthpiece, to be the guy that did every interview. It was a real tough thing, this dude would put his foot in his mouth. One time we had a crazy beef with Warren G and them because Juju had said in some interview that he don’t think Warren G is hip-hop, with that ‘Regulators’ song he had. So Chris Lighty had to squash that whole beef so we could even go to Cali. He said the shit on BET, on Prince Dajour on Rap City, and it turned into this whole thing. Then it was beef when we went to Chicago, cos Juju said, ‘All that tiggedy tiggedy tongue twisting shit don’t impress me!’ So Tongue Twista thought he was coming at him and they wanted to jump us at a show. It was crazy.
I had done this song, before we even started doing the album, called ‘Nikki The Sensational.’ Les had did the beat for it. I really liked Tribe Called Quest, I was really a fan of theirs, so the song was my way of doing ‘Bonita Applebum.’ It didn’t sound like ‘Bonita,’ but if you were gonna say, ‘We’re gonna take these elements, we’re gonna do this type of beat, talk about a girl, make it a catchy hook.’ So I did my version of it. So Juju came to this club one night and he was telling me that he let Tip hear it and Tip was shitting on me, like, ‘Yo, the beat is good but that nigga y’all got rappin’ is wack.’ So he was egging me on to diss him! It was so many subliminal disses about people. We had went to De La Soul’s video for ‘Saturday’ and there was this whole feeling like they shitted on us, like they wasn’t acting cool with us. It was mad corny, man. Ju was always egging me on, cos one of the first things he told me when he first heard me rhyme, he was like, ‘You’re gonna murder everybody! When I tell you to get on somebody? You gonna get on ‘em!’ That was always the mode that we was in from day one. So I’m like, ‘Wow? These niggas are shittin’ on me? Fuck all of them! Busta – everybody!’ So when you hear ‘Third of the Trio,’ when I say, ‘I’m so smooth on the horns, I was the real b-b-butter, baby!’ That’s about Tip and them. Then they said shit about me on famous songs, like when Phife says, ‘Believe that if you wanna but I tell you this much/Riding on the train with no dough, sucks!’ [‘Buggin’ Out’] He’s talking about us. One night we were in front of Calliope Studios, we had just done a session and we were talking about how we had sharks in our stomachs cos we were hungry. Nobody had no money to get nothing to eat while we were working all these hours in the studio. I remember me and Les telling Phife that we were about to hop the train to get home cos we didn’t have no money and shit, so he put that in a rhyme. It was all subliminal shit. Like when Tip says that shit in ‘Scenario’: ‘I can give a damn about an ill subliminal/stay away from clowns so I ain’t no criminal.’ He’s talking about me.
Tip and them had an editing session for the ‘Check The Rime’ video, so we went to the shit. It was me, Les and Ju, Tip is in there with some chick, the dude’s editing the shit. So we’re sitting down by him and the girl and Juju says to me, ‘Yo, tell that nigga Tip all that shit you were saying about him now.’ So I’m like, ‘Wait a minute – this is the nigga that’s been telling me that Tip was saying ill shit about me, that I suck, so I’m saying shit on them in records, and now you’re saying it in front of him?’ Me and Les looked at each other like, ‘What the fuck? This nigga is crazy!’ I remember Tip’s face, man, and how he looked at me. I felt so bad, because I always wanted to be cool with the nigga and make a record with the nigga. I was star-struck actually sitting in the room with the dude. It’s one of the hottest crews out and I’m in here with them, looking at a video before anybody is seeing it. And this nigga just said that shit. The way Tip looked at me, and I didn’t even say nothing. We left about ten minutes after that, and I never talked to Tip again. I seen him one time face to face again. Me and Les were walking in Soho and he was in a car with Lyor Cohen, they stopped and we exchanged pleasantries for a second, we shook hands but it was a real fake handshake. It just sucked, man.
Do you think Juju was trying to start trouble that wasn’t there or was it legitimate?
I won’t even pretend to understand Juju. I’ve dealt with the dude for years, I thought we were like brothers. We used to break bread together, eat, smoke, girls – all types of stuff. We went through the tough shit together of having no money. I could never put my finger on it. I think it was some racial shit that a part of it – comments he’s made to me over the years – plus at our high school there used to be wars between the Hispanics and the black people, and he was definitely always on the side of the Hispanic dudes. I was in the middle, because my mother’s father’s Cuban, and I’ve always had an affinity with my Latin people, that’s my blood.
The Street Level album was amazing. How were things when you were all recording that?
It’s amazing to me that the album came out like that, cos there was so much bullshit going on all the fucking time the studio. It wasn’t comfortable for any of us, Les and Juju used to have at it over beats and saying little dumb subliminal shit on records. The best shit that we did to date is the shit that we did together as a whole, is that Street Level album. We kinda took air out of the sails for that album, because we didn’t like the first single, ‘Props Over Here.’ We just did ‘Reign Of The Tech, ‘No Equal,’ ‘Psycho Dwarf’ all of this crazy wild EP, we’ve got this crazy album and ‘Props’ is the only song of it’s kind on the album, B. Nothing else is super jazzy like that, we started making a whole different song to it. But the label was on this over-thinking shit that we needed a radio single. It was like, ‘Dog, listen. ‘Reign Of The Tech’ wouldn’t have been a radio single, it’s just that it caught people.’ We coulda came out with ‘Hit Me’ or ‘Get Funky’ but that made us come out with that song and it was contrived. If you hear the hook, ‘Yeah, you get props over here!’ We’re using the slang term of the day and all of that shit, it was wack. The day it was picked for us, we were on a conference call with Chris Lighty and he got Tip on the phone and he was like, ‘Yo, Tip said that the first single should be ‘Props Over Here. The album is crazy, ‘Props’ is gonna blow up for y’all.’ It was us in the room with Alan Glumbrad and all these people from Relativity/Sony, Peter Kang. We did the good video but we didn’t put the energy behind it, that wasn’t the joint we wanted. I was associating mad songs with the experience I went through to create them, so a lotta of them songs I didn’t like until years later. I didn’t know that people liked it though. We used to hate going to perform that shit.
Why was that album so difficult to make?
It was bad times. If you put on earphones you can hear the underlying story of that album, cos you hear so many little ad-libs and people saying, ‘Suck my dick!’ We were doing subliminal disses to each other on our own album! Even the rhymes! ‘Yeah, and you can keep it subliminal/I don’t play, some people say my style is type criminal’ on ‘Hellraiser’? Ju thinks Les is talking shit about him! It was nuts, B.
How much did your lack of enthusiasm for the first single damage the album?
That definitely damaged it. Our energy, our vibe. Les and I – cos Ju didn’t even go out on the road with us to tour – we went on the Best of the Underground tour with Organzied Konfusion, Artifacts and Common. It was just me, Les, Ric Man and Mista Sinista from the X-Ecutioners. That album should have went platinum. If our energy would have been with it, and we would have been working it and feeling good about it? I think it went gold over a period of time, but it should have been a smash hit at the time period. We should have stood fast and not agreed with ‘Props Over’ as the single, regardless of what Chris and Tip were saying. Puba kept telling me every time he saw me, ‘Yo, tell the label to make that shit a single! We got a hit with that shit!’
‘Are You Ready’?
Exactly! We had some many joints that could’ve been singles.
What were ‘Fluid’ and ‘40 Oz’ from?
That was during the album. There’s a bunch of songs that we did that no one ever heard. There was a few joints we were supposed to do shit with and it never happened. Then a couple of joints like ‘Fluid’ got released, but it was on some low stuff and only for Japan it was supposed to be to give the something different. I have no idea where all of those fuckin’ joints went. Even joints that we did when we were recording my album. Do you know that joint ‘DWYCK’? We did a joint to that beat, called ‘You Got It Going On’ and it was a crazy joint. But as we were recording it, ‘DWYCK’ came out and Ju and them were like, ‘Fuck!’ They didn’t want to do the song no more because these dudes had used the beat first.