This is bit of an interview that Ego Trip released a few years ago, but was originally done in 1999. Also what the homey Brother Ethex was talking about when i asked him about the Rammellzee/Basquiat partnership…
What are your recollections about the whole process of making “Beat Bop”? How did you meet Jean-Michel Basquiat?
Rammellzee: Jean-Michel wanted to do a rap song because rap was coming into power at the time and that was one of the things besides writing on the trains that he didn’t know how to do. He didn’t know how to do wild style or a true burner like some of these things in here [points around room]. And I was brung into the city by Fab 5 Freddy to interrogate this guy.
And the basis of the interrogation was…?
Rammellzee: What he knew about art. Why was he in the power play position? And to tell him: you need to leave this shit alone and let the real troopers who did do something on the trains get past you and Keith Haring and let these fools know there’s an ikonoklastic war about to happen…
During the process of interrogation I had made a bet with him: I can do what you can do, you can’t do what I can do. He had brought three canvases, set ’em up and got me the paint in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery, which was his first gallery [exhibition in] like 1982. And in the basement he decided to let me paint these canvases, and Annina Nosei sold all three at his price. My prices where nowhere near his because he was going off and selling well. She came into the gallery and she told him, “I sold three of your best artworks.” I said, “Give me my money!” [laughs] “Now you gotta do what I do!” He never did what I could do. He switched from trying to do [burners and wild style] and went to do the song.
Was that resentment towards the likes of Basquiat and Haring pretty much a common thing amongst the writers who wrote on trains at the time?
Rammellzee: A lot of writers just didn’t appreciate that that graffiti was overtaking what we were doing – the burner or wild style – and the light dwellers just didn’t like that we came up with sophisticated explanations [for what we were doing]. When [the establishment] said “graffiti” – [they believed that] you can’t have a sophisticated explanation [for it]: “Don’t come up with any theorems, and please don’t outshine anybody we wanna maintain our lies with.” And that’s what Jean-Michel was – he was a maintainer of lies. Even in music. He lied, he didn’t do shit. But give the money [to make “Beat Bop”]. Lies. LIES. LIES! [laughs] I get to have some fun too…
So [when it came time to do “Beat Bop”] me and K-Rob came in there [to the studio]. [Basquiat] had a whole pamphlet of this stuff written about girls. And I said, “I’m not rhyming to this!” I put it down. He picked it up and gave it to me, so I crushed it and put it down! And I told K-Rob: “I’ma play pimp on the corner, you play little kid coming home from school.” And that’s how [the lyrics] worked, and that’s how it sounds: somebody walking home all sad and upset about how school treating him, bullies picking on him, drug dealers wanting to recruit him. And all of a sudden I started rhyming about what pimp style would be at the time. Jean-Michel had to sit down and rock in his chair and take it! [laughs]
K-Rob was somebody you knew from the writing world?
Rammellzee: We was all writers. K-Rob was from the Bronx up in Mitchell Projects and I was from Far Rockaway [Queens] coming in with A-1 and Dondi and Fab 5 Freddy and stuff.
What else do you recall about the actual session?
Rammellzee: [Basquiat] didn’t even make that beat, man. That was made by one of his friends [percussionist and fellow writer, Al Diaz]… some dude made the beat and was playing the bongos that day. I remember the bongos and a little bit of drums, and I heard some type of other instrument I still don’t know what it is. But [Basquiat] only put up the money. He only put up the money. [Basquiat] wanted to rhyme too. And when he went to go pick up the mic we all started laughing and he went back over there and sat down and started rocking [in his chair] again. That’s what pissed him off the most. That [what we were doing] was workin’. What were [K-Rob and I] there for, just to be sittin’ there listening to someone talkin’ a lot of shit while they not saying anything? I consider that to be a waste of my time.*
[* Al Diaz’s recollection, as interviewed by Dave Tompkins in How To Wreck a Nice Beach: “Jean was involved with the process… It wasn’t like he was just doing lines and writing checks… K-Rob was kind of on this good-boy trip. Saying, ‘Your mind can’t function,’ ‘Waiting at home for Mr. Right,’ and then Rammel’s going on about cocaine. It was some sinister shit. The session was fairly controlled. There was a lot of cocaine, but we were focused.”]
How was your relationship with Basquiat?
Rammellzee: The first year [the song] came out that’s when me and him got into a damn fight. He came into [art critic, Edit DeAk’s] house, where I was staying. And pulled out of his pocket $7,000, or it looked like it. It was a big fat roll of money. I said, “I’m not interested in money, I’m interested in science.” This motherfucker threw a punch and I caught that shit and kissed it and backhanded him right in his fuckin’ head. He got up the floor and wanted to fight. And the critic, Edit DeAk, had to stop this fool from coming after me. Because I was talking science and he didn’t wanna hear nothing about it.
We sit down with this fool [Basquiat] at a meeting. And we started talking about the record. The second that the critic starts talking [Basquiat] shuts up. He’s got nothin’ else to say. Why? Because Jean-Michel only wanted drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. He didn’t have no science. He didn’t know what to talk to no critics and if he wanted to talk he didn’t have enough to say. When I talk everybody tells me to be quiet. [laughs] Do you know why? Because I have information that comes to you either from [science], or it’s from something that comes from other people – from my peer group. Whether it came down to rap music, hip-hop music – which is slightly different, or whether it comes to break dancing.
After the fight and everything like that then everybody tried to say I was his friend. Why did I get in a fight with my friend? You don’t wanna be around somebody that thinks they know it all because these fool light dwellers is giving you money. You know? Because that’s what they were. They were giving [Basquiat] a lot of money to keep a certain art-form that I considered to be graffiti, abstract painting. Where it deals with letters on the side, cross out this over there. That’s graffiti to me. Because what I do is the burner. An aerodynamic aeronautical system of the letter flying on a rolling page in a wind tunnel known as the transit system. And that’s all that happens. A letter moves backwards with its own wings, it gained the wheels off the bottom of the train. And the page became a car with a year number on it. And the gallery was rollin’. Nobody liked to hear that because it was too well put together. They want you to be abstract and sit there and say nothing. He told me to shut up all the time.
They still doin’ it today. My own girlfriend still tell me to shut up now. Don’t want me to say nothin’. Why? [laughs] What did I do wrong? I don’t know either…
What is it about “Beat Bop” as a song that is aesthetically not pleasing to you?
Rammellzee: Another problem with that Jean-Michel song – it was too slow for me to rhyme then. But that [slow tempo] maybe causes a clearer tone of voice cuz I like to rhyme fast and yeah, sometimes I slur. I do drink a lot. [laughs] And at that time also that motherfucker was doing crazy crack, man. So when you take a hit of that how fast can you rhyme then? Your brain’s a little fried on that moment. But you know all of the drugs and everything like that you figure a guy would sit down and slow down and take his time and take himself apart. Re-evaluate himself. No, he’d rather go to an old friend of mines and get himself killed. Yeah.
I also wanna say that being out at Marine Moisture Control – which is a job that I had welding oil tankers and fixing flanges under the water in the gulf – I was perfectly happy doing that [before I got involved with all this]. Got $62 an hour, you know. Sometimes $80 an hour. You work with good people, you’re swimming, and you’re getting exercise and you’re fucking with sharks. You got a welding torch that ain’t going out in the water and you’re using five-minute epoxy under it, right? Sometimes two-minute epoxy. And you come in the city because they need you. Because the burner is being stopped and this particular guy is getting quite rich off off of what they, as light dwellers, want to see coming from what they call the subculture. I didn’t see a subculture, I saw a culture in development.
And somewhere around 1979, the burner went into a weapon slaved letter. I did that. I got a patent on the damn thing. You got people saying they got style or beyond style. They got borough style. But do you have patented style? If the government don’t approve of it that’s what you need to hear. And they don’t like me for that either. I said, well, I came up with a system that took everything that you wrote on the trains for: the wheels, the sound, the rolling pages, and came up with an [analogy] and I put it in a record with Jean-Michel and it gives him fucking fame. [laughs] And I’m stuck here wondering when the hell am I gonna get a dime from it? Never get a dime, so that’s one way to not like [“Beat Bop”].
Then [Basquiat’s] attitude about money was another way not to like it. Braggin’. I make money too now. I think all of us make money. We don’t make it the way some people make it. We don’t lose it the way some people lose jobs. You can make money. You just sell [what you create] right now. In my manuals I got seventeen different styles around here. And I do ’em in five different mediums – from shag rugs to this [points to a nearby rug]. I’ll cut this rug up later. Why waste all that beautiful paint and glue on the damn floor when it’s textured. You just slice the motherfucker up, paint on top of it, and sell it! You make your girlfriend happy. [laughs]