By Del F. CowieBig Daddy Kane's impact on hip-hop culture is incalculable. It would be impressive to only note that Kane recorded certified classics such as "Raw," "Set It Off" and the irrefutable "Ain't No Half Steppin'," all culled from the seminal 1988 long player Long Live The Kane. But the Brooklyn-born MC, along with MC Shan, Masta Ace, Craig G, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shante and legendary producer Marley Marl, was also a member of the virtually impregnable Juice Crew, arguably the prototype for the modern hip-hop collective. Kane was also a trendsetter who oozed swagger a full two decades before MCs began to overuse the term, with his unmistakable high-top fade cut and his playboy image. Yet behind the style there was serious substance. With his lightning fast delivery, willful manipulation of the English language and his innate gift of gab, Kane is indisputably one of the best MCs to ever do it. Recently, he performed at a 20th anniversary celebration of his career and is embarking on a mini-Canadian tour this month, showing and proving his ongoing relevance. Word to the Mother.
You're one of the very few MCs to put a live song on their album ["Wrath of Kane" on It's a Big Daddy Thing]. How important is your live show? It's very important. I feel that it's very, very important. I feel that in the music industry there are so many artists it's easy to be forgotten because it's so cluttered. But if you're a great live performer what happens then, it's now like... it becomes a manner of an energy selling. It's bigger than just the song. You have your artists like a Public Enemy or a 2pac they have songs that touch you because of things that are happening in your life. It makes people like you in a way that's bigger than the song.
Talking of bigger than the song, you were a member of the Juice Crew, which was one of the prototypes for crews we've seen in hip-hop onwards. What are some of the pros and cons in being involved in something like that? At that point in time, the beautiful thing about it was radio access, 'cos Marley Marl and Mr. Magic had their own show on WBLS in New York. Also having a unit like that could create, like, a touring package. I mean it [was] a good thing.
Do you think as you went on in your career that you were restricted as an artist? You obviously had the R&B influences that you wanted to explore, but the heads weren't always willing to go there with you and on your third and fourth albums and you were still putting out good songs like "Stop Shammin'"[from It Looks Like A Job For...", stuff that a lot of people didn't really get to hear. No. I mean, when you talk about "Stop Shammin'," that was a situation where the label at the time wasn't taking care of the project. I mean it was my last album [with them]; they knew I was getting ready to go over to MCA so they just really put the album out like, things are done. They had the radio buzz for "Very Special," they ran with that you know while radio was feeling it and after the buzz died they just pretty much forgot about the album. So therefore other songs like "Stop Shammin'" and other stuff on that album like "How U Get A Record Deal," stuff like that never really got the right exposure because they never wanted to push the album, because it was the last album [in the contract.] Now as far as the other stuff, a lot of the stuff that I probably tried, I tried a little too premature. You know, because by the mid-'90s, you know, it was like Puffy was making it with artists rhyming over disco and club beats and singing hooks. It was pretty much the same thing I was trying to do and everybody was ready for it then. And plus, I think he used a different approach, whereas his whole objective was making you dance. I didn't really have an identity for what I was doing. I was just basically doing music, so it wasn't the type of thing where I'm coming to you like saying "Hey what's up brother, I've got something new, this is some dance shit right here. This is gonna make you party." I'm just like "Here's the new Kane song." I've always called Puff like the greatest promotion person in this world - for himself and for his artists - better than anybody I've ever seen in my life. I mean he understood it from, I guess, from a marketing standpoint, whereas I didn't really know how to get it across to the people. I just knew how to make music.
Talking of contemporary artists, Jay-Z referenced you specifically on his song "Do it Again." I believe you guys worked together in the past. Did you ever see the potential for him to be where he is right now at that time? Where he is right now? No. I saw the potential in him to be recognized as a great lyricist.Was he your hypeman? I'm not entirely sure what the relationship was? No he wasn't a hypeman. What he was, was a kind of like what I would do with Biz [Markie] before I made records. I did [it] between the show, and he would call me out in the middle, so he could take a break. I would come out and rhyme for about five minutes. That's what would happen when I was on tour so I could take a break and do an outfit change. I would call Jay-Z and Positive K out on the stage and they'd just come out and rhyme, sort of like a cameo.