Mc Shan Interview: Queens Reigns Supreme

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by Alex Shtaerman

From putting Queensbridge on the map with one of the most memorable hood anthems ever recorded to battling it out with KRS One in a cross-borough beef which after two decades still stands among Hip-Hop’s all time greatest rivalries, MC Shan was knocking MCs out the box when your favorite rapper was still in diapers. And while the legendary Juice Crew member acknowledges his long list of accomplishments, Shan insists his legacy is far from complete. “I don’t want to be remembered for what I did”, declares the outspoken rhymesmith, “because the greatest thing that I did I haven’t done yet”.

Set to drop his first solo album in over a decade, MC Shan, now residing just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, is reinvigorated and visibly optimistic about the future. In praising the renaissance of Southern Hip-Hop, the New York rhyme vet breaks ranks with some of his peers while also crediting rap’s younger generation for keeping his skills intact. “People always talk about – oh, old school niggas inspired me and this and that. Yo, they don’t know that we sit around watching them to keep our game up”. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and if you’ve heard what Shan’s been spittin’ of late, you already know it’s that pure uncut raw. Now see what the man has to say.

Click here to listen to “Boom”, brand new fire MC Shan.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Nowadays, when rappers want to break into the music business, a lot of them have very sophisticated marketing campaigns, different teams hitting different markets and so forth. At the time you got on, in the early 80’s, how did you go from just rhyming to having your records played on the radio? Can you describe that early period?

MC SHAN: In the early period we didn’t have to spend the money really to get [our music on the radio]. If you had talent they picked your joint up and put it on. But now they made it to the point where if you ain’t got no paper for them to play your record, you ain’t getting it played, or if you’re not down with a certain so-called “click”. But that’s the politics of radio, I don’t really like getting into politics; I don’t like playing the politic game anymore, you know what I’m saying.

There’s so many avenues out here to get your music out and get it heard now that the radio actually doesn’t make a damn difference about it. You can get your music heard a lot of different places. I mean, the radio makes a big difference but as far as getting people to hear it, please, you can get people to hear your music [a lot of other ways]. The promotion tactics are different now also. Even through a lot of music is corporate, there are other avenues that you can take [like] MySpace and all this other stuff to promote; it costs you nothing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Obviously a lot of the rap music today is very one dimensional; what are your thoughts on that? What do you think caused it to go from a place where originality was essential to a place now where a lot of times originality is a little more than an after-thought for a lot of MCs?

MC SHAN: That’s because there’s only one thing they have to listen to and that’s why it’s going in that direction. People always come to me now with that new question – is Hip-Hop dead? Hip-Hop ain’t dead, it’s just that there is only one genre [in the music]. And the people who are signing the checks are making it that way ‘cause they are only singing this kind of thing. There’s plenty of other acts and other talent out there that can be signed who are not doing the same one-faceted thing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently started recording again and releasing new material. What prompted you to do that?

MC SHAN: It’s that time. I got a new album deal. I started doing that even before that song, whatever Nas said, came out [referring to “Where Are They Now”]. When it came out it was just a little better for me because here it is, Nas biggin’ me up and whatnot, you know what I’m saying. But I was doing my album long before all of that stuff. Right now there are some songs out there that’s circulating; see, I didn’t pay for that, I used that other avenue.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you think with the advent of all these new technologies and alternative means of promoting and getting the music out to the fans; is that going to be a big advantage for a lot of artists, as far as having creative freedom and not necessarily having to always bend to the corporate standard, so to speak?

MC SHAN: You know what’s gonna happen, somebody gotta step up like me and take my space. That’s it, I’m not asking. Somebody just gotta step up and say – look, this is what I’m doing, that’s what it is. ‘Cause there’s a lot times, as far a being “old school”, which is what they would want to classify you, that’ll be the first excuse somebody will give you not to listen to your music. Like “I don’t wanna sign you, what are you gonna do with that old school shit?” – before they even listen to your tape. I got a lot of stuff that’s – my style is still me and I do what I wanna do on songs that I feel that I like to do – I got some down Southy type records and things like this. I’m not gonna have people telling me what I can do. I’m gonna do some shit that’s gonna make people look and say, “damn! he’s still spittin’ it like that? Get the fuck outta here! He ain’t fucking been around since Jesus and shit” [laughs].

RIOTSOUND.COM: You now reside just outside of Atlanta. Has being down South and seeing the explosion of Southern rap music first hand influenced you as an MC?

MC SHAN: It hasn’t influenced me as an MC because like I just said I’m gonna do what I wanna do, I’m not gonna switch up my style.

RIOTSOUND.COM: But as far as your perspective and outlook on things, has that changed at all?

MC SHAN: [I realized] that I need to broaden my horizons and get me some of these down South acts as well as all of the acts that I got from everywhere else. I need to get some of that because there’s a market for it. Like right now I got this song up on the internet and it really has a Southy feel to it. I’m asking for comments and one dude commented me back like “I really really can’t stand the Dirty South sound”. That’s fine, but me as an artist, I’m not gonna be sitting down here in the South and you not gonna send me into no studio with none of these niggas down here and I’m not gonna be able to fucking spit and get on track with them. So I adjust my style and my things to who I got around me and where I’m at, you know what I’m saying. You got to freak it like a chameleon.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A few months ago you and Roxanne Shante came together to work on bringing the Juice Crew back with some new members for the new generation; how has that progressed?

MC SHAN: How it’s unfolding is I got a label deal and that’s the main avenue to put out these acts that we’re trying to get. In the meantime that’s being stagnant right now for the simple fact that my album has to come out and the label has to get structured. Once the label is structured, then we’ll go back in full swing because then we’ll have an avenue, we won’t have to ask anybody. Anything that we sign, we’ll sign and put it out. We won’t have to get the artist and then go begging somebody for some distribution. So [the new Juice Crew] is still in effect but it’s just the fact of the bureaucrats and their politic bullcrap again.

My album was supposed to come out in January, then it got moved to February, then to March. Man, I don’t really like this fucking deal that I got because I’m back in the same spot. It’s trough Universal and I’m in the bureaucratic situation. It’s not like I can do what I want and put it out tomorrow like we used to do.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As of now, do you definitely see your album dropping in March?

MC SHAN: I see it dropping in March but even if it doesn’t it’ll be a good factor because I got like eight new songs. I just wrote another song last night. I was listening to that Lil Wayne “Leather So Soft”. Lil Wayne, I been listening to him lately. That little nigga got some lyrics. But last night I turned on that “Leather So Soft” thing and I ain’t stop writing. I finished writing my song five o’clock in the morning and it was to that beat. See, certain songs give me a thing to write to and that “Leather So Soft”, that thing is so tight, it’s like damn, that’s a real MC, you hear some real tight shit. Its like – yo, I got to get up on something like this [laughs].

People always talk about – oh, old school niggas inspired me and this and that. Yo, they don’t know that we sit around watching them to keep our game up. Some of us do and some of us don’t and when you hear certain people rhyming you could hear who of the old school doesn’t and who of the old school keeps up with their craft.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of times MCs today seem like they fabricate battles and beefs just to generate a buzz and sell records. Having been part of such a legendary battle on wax, do you feel that some of the phony beefs we see today are crossing the line as far as what’s proper and what’s not?

MC SHAN: I can’t really comment on how they doing they battles and shit ‘cause I kinda started the fucking shit [laughs], you know what I’m saying. I was the first one on a record talking about shooting motherfuckers, if you think it about, with the Kris records. So I can’t really criticize on what’s going on and what’s doing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Marley Marl recently recorded a song with KRS One called “Rising” where KRS says he owes you credit for the start of his career, what are your thoughts on that?

MC SHAN: Well, you know what people need to do? Stop talking shit and listen to what he’s saying. I’ve been trying to tell people that for years [laughs]. And Kris know I didn’t quit rhyming because of Kris. Fuck that, Kris know I woulda got at him. Back in the days if anybody came at me, the whole industry knew that Shan was that motherfucker. You wanna battle, you wanna have confrontation? Talk about Shan.

Now in between the time of Kris and Cold Chillin’ came Snow. I got paid! I was like, fuck all this, I’m not fucking with you Cold Chillin’, I don’t care what this one or that one says. And due to the fact of Marley Marl, he was a sucker, I’m telling it again because I’m tired of people putting that on me. Back in the days I woulda got at you, I woulda got at his momma, I woulda got at anybody. And Marley was like – yo, don’t make no more records about Kris, it’s gonna make him famous. So he’s the producer and I listened and now I’m stuck with that stigma and then 20 years later [Marley] goes and makes a record with [KRS One], you faggot [referring to Marley Marl].

And you see that right there, I’d make a record with the motherfucker [referring to KRS] but it would have to be real. We gonna have to get paid in the end but it ain’t gonna be about the cash, like – oh let’s do this record for the money. And I do hear that [Marley Marl and KRS One] did an album but I don’t hear it bumping in the street; so what the fuck is that?

RIOTSOUND.COM: The legacy of Hip-Hop coming from Queensbridge at this point in time is immeasurable. From yourself and Marley all the way down to Nas, Mobb Deep and Cormega, the Bridge has blossomed since you, in effect, put it on the map. In a sense, KRS One saying “The Bridge Is Over” was kind of ironic since the Bridge was just getting started and the Bronx would actually fade a little in the years after that. How do you feel knowing that you laid the foundation for such a powerful legacy in Hip-Hop?

MC SHAN: I’m not looking at that. See, that’s what’s the problem with a lot of old school artists; they keep looking back and saying, remember me for this and that. No, I don’t want to be remembered for what I did because the greatest thing that I did I haven’t done yet. And so I don’t like looking back and saying, praise me for this and praise me for that. Watch out for the next thing I’m gonna do because with the old school artists, that’s one thing I can’t stand, they always talking about – remember me, I was from so and so, I did this and I was the first one to scratch and I was the first one to say this on a record. Oh shut the fuck up and go do some new shit. Shut the fuck up please and tell ‘em Shan said so. Fuck that, you wanna battle nigga? Saying something.

And see, that was another thing. Back then I’d talk about you because, you wanna know why? Back then I ain’t have to worry about you coming and sticking a gun in my back. See what I’m saying? So if I had something to say about you, oh believe me I was gonna put it on a record. LL, everybody, I don’t care who it was. You do remember “Beat Biter” right?

RIOTSOUND.COM: Yea, of course. That was the record where you came at LL Cool J before the whole thing with Kris.

MC SHAN: Yup. See, people don’t look at that. But LL used the tactic that Marley tried to use with Kris. LL was thinking that he was so much larger than me like – oh, I don’t have to respond to Shan. No, you ain’t gotta respond to Shan, I just took your ass out on a record nigga and you ain’t say shit [laughs].

RIOTSOUND.COM: So even with all that history, you still feel like you don’t want to be recognized for all those classic moments?

MC SHAN: I mean, it’s nice to recognize those things, that’s all good because that’s what makes me me. [I’m not saying] to totally wipe that away but I’m just saying, recognize me for what I’m trying to do for you now. Hip-Hop is like a bitch. She always saying, what the fuck have you done for me lately?

RIOTSOUND.COM: What would you say to a fourteen or fifteen year old kid who’s maybe just getting into Hip-Hop and hasn’t heard of you; what would you want them to know about MC Shan?

MC SHAN: What I would tell them is don’t judge me by one song. Listen to the whole album first because my album isn’t going to be a one sided thing. You might hear a song about how a bitch fucked me over, you’ll hear a song about how I’m gonna knock this motherfucker’s head off when I catch him and then you might hear me spitting something different like – I don’t know where Shan came up with that style but that’s a good one.

But, I mean, the whole beef thing gave a little bit of light to me because that’s what a lot of young kids talk about when they see me like – wow, didn’t I see you in Beef? And I still look the same [so they can recognize me]. And so that right there opened up a lot of avenues for a lot of young kids who didn’t know who I was. And then came Nas talking about Shan on a record; I know some people going – who the hell is Shan? [laughs]

RIOTSOUND.COM: You got the new album dropping, what else should fans be looking out for as far as MC Shan goes?

MC SHAN: That Juice Crew thing, I’m gonna pick back up on that. Basically I’m going to be doing whatever falls into my lap. Whatever I wake up in the morning and think of, that’s what the hell’s gonna happen, I don’t even know yet. I got a set road but ain’t no buildings built along my highway yet. I’m constructing as I go.

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