It's been a long road for Big Daddy Kane, but he's not ready to throw in the towel yet. Regarded as one of modern hip-hop's forefathers, the legendary Brooklyn MC first emerged as part of the Juice Crew before dropping his brilliant debut album, Long Live the Kane, in 1988. His follow up, 1989's It's a Big Daddy Thing, produced classics like "Smooth Operator," "I Get the Job Done" and "Warm It Up, Kane."
During the '90s, he put the spotlight on another Brooklyn MC by the name of Jay-Z, bringing him out at shows and featuring him on his posse cut, "Show & Prove." Back in '89, Kane was what Jay-Z is now. After moving to Raleigh, NC, and focusing on family life, Kane fell back, but never strays too far from the mic.
Speaking of the mic, you might recall a YouTube clip of Kane dropping it a few years ago during a performance. In true Big Daddy Kane fashion, he picked it up and improvised a line about it to the crowd's delight—a testament to the quick wit and confidence that has defined his career.
Prior to his first performance at D.C.'s Howard Theatre, Kane talked about moving to North Carolina, his experience visiting Brooklyn in its current state, Jay-Z's success, and who he listens to now. Twenty-five years after the release of his debut, and he still ain't half-steppin'.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
You were part of the Juice Crew, which was mostly made up of dudes from Queensbridge. What was it like being one of the few Brooklyn guys in the group?
In the beginning there was awkwardness, because me and Shan didn’t necessarily get along and Mr. Magic was kind of funny towards me. But eventually we were all close and good friends. I definitely wanted to rep Brooklyn, because pretty much all of them were reppin’ Queens—Shan, Shanté, Craig G, G Rap.
With “The Symphony,” do you think you guys helped to father the posse cut as it’s known today?
I don’t know. There was a Krush Groove song with LL, Run–DMC, Kurtis Blow, and I think the Fat Boys. There was Pumpkin & the All-Stars with Jeckyll & Hyde; there was a lot of posse cuts before us. But with what you’re saying, I’ve heard Eric Sermon and a lot of other people say that.
All my memories of Brooklyn are gone. It’s not like I can go to the Empire and put my feet up on the back of someone else’s seat so the rats don’t run across my feet.
How did you get introduced to the teachings of the Five Percent Nation?
It was something that I was around and the people I was around in high school. Basically, it’s your surroundings—you’re hangin’ with cats, you listen to what they’re saying and what makes sense. That’s when I started getting deep into it.
You moved to Raleigh in 2000. What brought you to the South?
I don’t really know. I just thought it was a nice, mellow place and so I just…went. It was nothing in particular.
Were you tired of the fast pace in New York?
I was born and raised in New York, and just because the streets was moving fast don’t mean I was moving fast. The pace of New York didn’t bother me because I took my time to do what I wanted to do anyway.
What’s it like coming back to Brooklyn now?
It’s mad different. When people ask me would I move back, I say, “What for?” All my memories are gone. It’s not like I can go to the Empire and put my feet up on the back of someone else’s seat so the rats don’t run across my feet. It’s not like I can go see great Kung fu flicks on The Deuce for $1.50. It’s not like I can go and get some of that good-ass pizza right there across the street from where Albee Square Mall used to be, or even go to the Albee Square Mall. All my memories in Brooklyn are gone; I go there now and an old movie theater will end up being an organic shop or Blimpie’s will end up being a Starbucks.
It has to be crazy how your neighborhood has transformed into something totally different than it was 20 to 30 years ago.
Nah, in all honesty that’s not crazy because that’s something that always happens after a certain amount of years. That’s something you’re used to reading about. Your parents and grandparents talk about when this was that, so you expect at some point that you’ll go through it, too. That’s not crazy at all—what’s crazy is when you see thugs on the corner and they got on skinny jeans and Vans sneakers. That’s crazy.
Who do you listen to these days?
As far as new artists go, I listen to Joell Ortiz, Saigon. I watch a lot of the YouTube battles: Goodz, Loaded Lux, I’m into stuff like that. Other than that, not really any new material.
You mentioned the skinny jeans and Vans—hip-hop presently has an obsession with nostalgia, especially in terms of style. How does it feel to see kids with high-top fades in the 21st century?
It’s like what we were talking about earlier with your parents and grandparents; it’s just a part of history. I have a picture of my father wearing one in the ‘60s, but I ain’t gonna lie—it’s funny. It’s a new name that they call it now, I don’t think they say “flat top” anymore and that’s what bugs me out. But in the ‘60s I think they called it a “box cut,” right? It’s definitely different.
Back in the early to mid-90s, you used to bring Jay-Z on stage to rock when you were performing. How does it feel to see what he’s become?
I’m happy for him. I’ve always thought that dude was a good rapper and always wanted to see him achieve the best and he has.
If you have these tight ears that’s only trying to hear one thing, that’s where you’re gonna be stuck at.
He brought you out at the Barclays Center grand opening concert in September. It was a giving-back moment.
What's always amazed me is how you could rap circles around people, but then bust out dance moves and people had to respect it. You could just as easily do “Raw” or “Nuff Respect” as you could slow it down for “Smooth Operator.” How do you maintain that balance?
It’s all music. Marvin Gaye could go from “Got to Give It Up” to “Let’s Get it On,” James Brown could go from “The Big Payback” to “This is a Man’s World.” It’s all music; it’s about people respecting an art form. Once you appreciate an art form, you’re open to everything. If you have these tight ears that’s only trying to hear one thing, that’s where you’re gonna be stuck at. That goes for artists too—if you’re only gonna walk around stage with a mad screw face on, tryin’ to look tough, more than likely people will come to your show and say, “That was the worst fuckin’ performance I ever seen.” You have to take the time to really respect the art form, then you’ll have a strong fanbase for years upon years because they love what you’re putting out, they love your stage presence, they love what you’re about and stand for.
How does it feel to see your influence in hip-hop today?
When people say things and give props, I think it’s beautiful. It’s been a long time, and to see people still care and show love, that’s great. It’s the type of thing where I wish those type of influences could shower down on the next generation of artists. It’s beautiful to see how it affects your fan-base, but it needs to affect the new artists. I’m used to being respected for what I do, and I’ve watched as my peers—Dough E. Fresh, MC Lyte—do the same thing and I remember the ones before me—LL, Run–DMC—how it was for them. I think we were able to achieve what we achieved because we watched the generation before us. With this younger generation, I’m not sure that they really understand it. It don’t hurt me because I’m still working, but it hurts them because now an artist’s life span is like three months.
Younger artists and fans should always take the time to go back and learn the history. There are people with that level of appreciation, though.
The young generation today, they don’t really care. In their minds, it’s “Fuck that old nigga, he had his chance.” And then with the attention span, you’re really only focused on what’s hot as opposed to what you actually like. What you like is what people tell you is hot, not what you actually heard on your own.
If you could get a beat from someone and a feature to put a record out tomorrow, who would it be?
What might be interesting, that could really shake the game up, might be a beat from Kanye with LL on it.
Kanye might be open to it, and Jay would probably get in his ear about it too. You have a show at the Howard Theatre in D.C. on the 25th—can you even remember how many times you performed in D.C.?
I don’t know, a whole bunch of times, man. Back when we used to be at the Capital Centre with Rare Essence and Chuck Brown and E.U.—I’ve done a lot of shows in D.C., but I’ve never played the Howard Theatre before; this’ll be my first time.
They just re-opened it last April; it had been closed. They spent about $30 million to bring it back, but it looks great in there.
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard about it in the past so I’m definitely looking forward to it.
How do you feel about the Nets moving to Brooklyn?
That’s beautiful. I love when big things happen for Brooklyn. I used to love the Nets back when Jayson Williams was playing for them. I hope they get it together and are able to contend for a championship. Even if they don’t win, I’d love to see them in the playoffs and the finals.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)