Last spring, way back in 2014, we sat down with Large Professor, partly on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Illmatic but mostly because he's the reason for much of the New York rap we both love so much.
MUHAMMAD: The Extra P.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes, sir.
MUHAMMAD: In the building.
KELLEY: Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: What's happening, man?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Everything's good. Everything's New York. I'm good. I'm right here, you know. Chilling.
MUHAMMAD: Yo, it's such an honor to have hip-hop royalty up here.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Wow. Thank you. Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: It's real.
LARGE PROFESSOR: I appreciate that, man. Definitely.
KELLEY: Got quite a bit of hip-hop royalty up here, actually.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Of course. Yeah.
KELLEY: Majority hip-hop royalty in this room right now.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Oh yeah. Like, I was just saying, I — the Marley show. I was pinned, like, right there with it. So definitely it's an honor to be here also.
KELLEY: When did you guys first cross paths?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Myself and --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Ali. That was early. That was maybe early '90s. A lot of parties in the city. Soul Kitchen. Just all these different parties, and we were all part of that Rush — you know, the Rush House. So it was like --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Those times were — those times in New York were just — it was just brimming with all kinds of energy, so definitely around those times, early '90s.
KELLEY: And did you — and when you met was there some level of competition or was it a meeting of the minds?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Oh no. It was a mutual respect.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, mad respect.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Because — yeah. A few of the songs on our albums, we kind of used the same samples a little bit, so it was like a kind of camaraderie because of that. It was like, "Yo! You flipped it too? I like the way you flipped it." "Yo! You flipped it?" That kind of thing. So, yeah, it was all love. Definitely. All love.
KELLEY: What's an example of one of those songs?
LARGE PROFESSOR: One of the songs we used was Lou Donaldson sample, "Pot Belly."
MUHAMMAD: "Think Twice?"
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, and the "Think Twice," the Donald Byrd. But "If The Papes Come." "If The Papes Come" too, definitely. Cause it was like, "Wow. We kind of crossing paths on the same samples" kind of thing. And at that time, I was — it's funny. I was just speaking about at that time it was like if someone used a sample that you used it was like, "Ah we gotta scrap the song."
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. It was like, "We gotta scrap the song." So --
MUHAMMAD: That's kind of how it was. For — cause "Footprints," we had the same — I don't know if you or Tip — like, did y'all meet before that?
LARGE PROFESSOR: No. No. We did not.
MUHAMMAD: Cause I feel like we went and changed --
LARGE PROFESSOR: No.
MUHAMMAD: Or was — did y'all — did that come after?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Tribe came first.
MUHAMMAD: That can't --
LARGE PROFESSOR: And I think maybe when you guys were about to release, like, I must've been in the studio. It was --
MUHAMMAD: Something happened because the original "Footprints" changed. And I feel like it was after hearing "Looking At The Front Door."
LARGE PROFESSOR: No. No. No. Nah. Nah.
MUHAMMAD: I don't quite remember, but I just feel like --
LARGE PROFESSOR: No, the album — I think the album dropped and maybe my single dropped like (sound effect). Like, it was all of that. And you how God works, so it's just like --
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that energy was just --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, family.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Definitely.
MUHAMMAD: Stirring. Brewed up. We all — it was just coming from, I guess, the same root, really.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, definitely.
KELLEY: OK. What is that root?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Just a New York — you know, we were that next layer of New York hip-hop. The traditional hip-hop. And, you know, it was at a time when getting records — that's one of the roots of hip-hop is having a record or two copies of a record. And it was like now we were expanding like, "Alright. We going to use a little jazz now. We're going to use this instead of just a regular rock breaks and funk breaks."
So, we were that layer that just — "Now we're going to expand it." And a lot of records — you know, just finding the same records and like, "Yo. We gon' flip this. This will be nice to flip." So it was just a lot of — I don't know — just coincidences.
MUHAMMAD: Can we go back a little bit? Because, for me, you always represent New York.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Of course. Of course. Of course.
MUHAMMAD: When I see the Large Professor, it's just like — your face should be in the Wikipedia — any Encyclopedia, when it has New York City, it should definitely be your face. Your picture should be there. Because --
KELLEY: Renovate the Statue of Liberty.
MUHAMMAD: It's just, I think, your embodiment is New York City.
LARGE PROFESSOR: New York. Yes. Yes.
LARGE PROFESSOR: That's my root definitely. That's my root.
MUHAMMAD: I mean, it was just like one of the first things you said when you sat down. You said, "New York." I'm like, it can't get away from that.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. New York.
MUHAMMAD: So can we go back a little bit because obviously there's something that we — me being from New York and we all just kind of coming from the same place, and there's things that unite us. But from your New York experience, through your eyes, what was the origin, your beginnings, your early five, seven, nine, ten, 11.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes. Definitely. I mean, it was definitely records. As children, records were like toys to us. I don't know if maybe — but I know a lot of people --
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, same.
LARGE PROFESSOR: — when I say, "Yo, did you have the little Fisher Price player?" And it's like, "Yeah, I had that." And it was like toys to us, so we were kind of children coming up when these guys, like the older generation, was already kind of out there with two copies and doing their thing. So it's like from the beginning we were hip-hop's inception, just going right aligned with hip-hop but from childhood. So that's me all day, the records.
And you can't go outside. You know, I was a little mischievous, so I couldn't go outside or whatever the case might've been then. And it's like, "Alright. Well I gotta stay inside. What is there to do?" Look through the records and, "Oh, this is that record that Flash — that I heard on the tape!" And earlier, even earlier than that, like, I have an older sister, and she was always uptown and bringing tapes and just all of that stuff, like the early Harlem World stuff. And so it was just like from beginning.
And then my parents playing soul and all of the blues and everything. So I was just like — and records, that was a thing that we did on Fridays. My mother, she'd turn off the television, and it would be like, "Alright. Paulie, put on the record." I was gassed cause I could select the record. It was like, "Nah. Don't put that record! Put the other record on! Oh, you messing up." You know, my sister — she would let my sister — "Ah, no. It's your turn now." Like, if I messed up, she'd be like, "Nah, I don't want to hear that right now."
So I was prepped from day one to select. I heard a story that DJ Hollywood told, and — I don't know — it just warmed my heart. Because I kind of felt the same way. He told the same kind of story. Like, they would be playing cards in his house, and they would be like, "Put that record on!" I had kind of the same thing. Definitely. Yeah. Yup.
MUHAMMAD: That's funny, man. So it came from your parents being an inspiration and then older sis bringing tapes. What did that feel like? Do you remember the first rhyme you heard?
LARGE PROFESSOR: The first rhyme. Wow. I think it was — mm. Wow. I mean, it was all on records. So I remember my sister running this Count Coolout record.
MUHAMMAD: Count Coolout. Oh, wow.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Count Coolout records. So I mean, from there, the first record that I got for myself was Spoonie Gee, "Spoonin Rap." Me in Korvettes, I'm like, "Ma. You gotta. Please!" So from there it was just wildfire.
And then I had a good friend in school. He had older brothers that were like really — even more than my sister. They were more in tune with what was going on. And my friend Maleek, he would always come in like, "Yo, you ever heard 'Rocket In The Pocket?'" And I'm like, "Nah." He's like, "Yo, it's a break!" And I would go over to his house after school and his brother and Jeff Teasley and all the dudes, they would be there DJing and it was just like, "Wow. This is me all day." All day.
MUHAMMAD: So you knew it from that moment on? Like, that was it.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. Especially the breaks. Especially the breaks. Like, the rap was cool, but the breaks? Like, "Ah, this is an old record, and they just play that part over and over again?" I was hooked. I was hooked. Definitely.
MUHAMMAD: You mention Korvettes. For those --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: For those '90s/2000 listeners who were born at that period, Korvettes, for the non-New Yorkers --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Right.
MUHAMMAD: I can't even believe you mentioned Korvettes.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Korvettes. Yo. Korvettes.
MUHAMMAD: You took me back. Korvettes is like — I don't know — the modern day Kmart or Walmart or — I don't even know what the equivalent of a Korvettes is. But oh wow.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. Korvettes.
MUHAMMAD: So then, let's say you're like 15, 16, 18, what was the backdrop, as a New Yorker, for you?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Oh wow. It was records — it was school and records and the studio at that time. It was — basically that was my life. I didn't care about clothes, girls, anything. It was just school, records, and the studio. It was just --
MUHAMMAD: The studio at such an early age for you was — like you say that now, people say, "I'm going to the studio," and that's the norm. But at that time, that wasn't really --
LARGE PROFESSOR: That wasn't the norm. No.
MUHAMMAD: — the norm. And you were surrounded — you were in a — can you — tell us who you were around. Cause you were around the icons of hip-hop.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, it was heavy. I kind of started at 100. I didn't start at zero. I kind of started at 100, cause as soon as I got the gist of making beats. And it was like, "Alright. Well, you press this. You press that. You press that, and you have a beat made." And I'm just like, "OK." And then I'm an extremist, so I'm going in. I'm like, "Alright" — my mentor, Paul C, he lent his SP-1200 for two weeks, and I swear I maybe made 30 or 40 beats like in that little two week period. So I was just in on it.
And my good friend Fatal, Joe Fatal — Paul C, he came back. He was a very very sought after producer in Studio 1212 at the time. So he was kind of taking a break from work and he came back. He got the SP-1200. He was like, "Yo, did you make any beats?" I'm like, "Yeah." He was like, "Yo, can I take some copies of the disc." So I gave him some beats. I gave Joe Fatal some beats, cause Tragedy, Intelligent Hoodlum, had just come home. And he was like, "Yo, give me these beats" and everything.
So I was just giving everyone beats and those beats circulated throughout Queens and just the studios and everything. And they wound up — I mean, my first call for someone liking a beat was Paul C called me one day and he said, "Yo, man. You gotta get to the studio fast." And I'm like, "Yo, what's up?" He's like, "Yo, I'm here with Biz, and I played him one of your beats. And he likes the beat, man. He wants to meet you."
So I'm like, "Ah, man. No." I don't even know what I did to get there cause I was just records and — so I wasn't even — I didn't even have a job. I wasn't making money, so I did something to get there. And I got to the studio, and he was like, "Yo!" Biz. It was Biz. It was like, "Yo, man, that beat is" — and he had just finished "You Got What I Need," the — "Just A Friend."
KELLEY: Oh my god.
LARGE PROFESSOR: And he played it for me and everything. "Yo, how do you like this?" And I'm sitting there. I'm, like, in shock. I'm like, "Yo, this is Biz." It's like, "Yo!" Cause Biz was on fire at that time. So I'm like, "Yo. This is Biz, and he likes my beat." And then they're playing me — they played me the sample, the Fat Albert sample that they were gon' use for "Mudd Foot." And I'm like, "Yo, this is" — so it was surreal.
So those beats traveled all over, and I wound up working, on my first shot, just working with Intelligent Hoodlum. That's the first track I did. That wound up getting to Kool G Rap to Eric B. and Rakim, and just all of the big dogs at that time. It was just insane. It was like a dream come true.
MUHAMMAD: How old were you?
LARGE PROFESSOR: 19. 18, 19. And I was just like — cause when I put my mind, "This is what I'm going to do." I just — I go in. So I was extremely going in on those beats, and I was just like, "This is what I want to do. This is what I'm going to do." I kind of just started with the big dogs of that time. Definitely.
KELLEY: And at that time, Queens was really a hot bed.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes. The Q. Queens was like — because we had just been crushed by Boogie Down Productions, so it was like we had something on our chest. Like, wow. They condemned us. They threw us under the bus.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Like, "Yo. What's up, man. We got something to prove now." So it was like — and Marley and Shan were spearheading the way and then you had — our leader at that time, my generation's leader at that time, was Trag, was Intelligent Hoodlum. He was our age-range that was already out there. Trag was rocking. When he was like 15, he already had a record out. So to be able to work with him was an honor, cause I had already known him for years.
I mean, I was just trying to put it out there for Queens too, the Q, definitely. Kool G Rap. We had — we developed pride from when Boogie Down Productions — before then, no one was saying like, "Yo, Queens." I mean, just a little sprinkle from Run-D.M.C. It was like, "Yo, I'm living Queens and I love," you know, that kind of thing. We weren't trying to condemn anyone else or throw — it was just like, after Boogie Down Productions, it was like, "Nah. We gotta rep for Queens." It's the kind of thing. So, real quick, real quick.
MUHAMMAD: When did you, from producing, when did you decide you wanted to start making records of your own?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Ah, that was from beginning. I mean, I went through all of the phases of hip-hop. Of recording — what — pause tapes. I went through pause tapes. I went through making a demo with — and it's funny because just the other day I was listening to Jungle Brothers' first album. And I was listening to the production and I remember making demos how they were making their songs.
Like, where you would have the two copies of the record, and they would be cutting it up, cutting that record up. And then overdubbing the bass line or whatever. But it was all turntable. Some of them were drum machine, but a lot of it was like, "Yo, he's cutting that record up." And then they were going and overdubbing so that's — we made those kind of demos also.
As a matter of fact, one of my good friends that I grew up with is Chyskillz who produced the first Onyx album. So he lived down the block from me, and my first demos, he — that's the style of production that we were doing at that time, where he would cut up "Synthetic Substitution" breakbeat on one tape. And you had the two and three tape decks, and he would put the tape in there. And then he would play that tape and overdub some bass lines. So I went through all of those phases.
So I was just always revving to make a record. I was definitely always wanting to stick my chest out there. I was a little bold and just daring. Like, "Give me the mic." I didn't care. I was — you know, whatever. Just to try my hand at it. So I was always revving to make a record.
MUHAMMAD: How did Main Source come together?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Main Source was like, at that time, kids in school with a kind of like-minded interests and, "Yo, you heard what was on the radio?" Like, "Yeah." And, "This dude. That guy. Yo, he rhymes — yo, that's Akinyele. He rhymes." We would get to cyphers in the lunch room. That's what it was at that time. You get to cypher in the lunch room, and the boldest people would stick their chests out at the lunch room. And after that, I guess, all the A alikes, like the people who actually put something out there, would, "Yo, you alright, man. Yo, you alright." That kind of thing.
So it was that kind of thing. My friend Van, he introduced me to K-Cut, one of the DJs. And K-Cut and his brother, they were aspiring DJs. It was kind of like a club house thing. "Yo, after school you want to come over to my house and we just cut it up?" You know, and everything like that.
And their mother, their mother saw that we were kind of serious, and their mother was kind of invested in us. Like, "Alright. Well, what do you guys need?" It was like, "Wow. If we only had an SP-1200, we would be able to" — boom. SP-1200. Boom. "What else you" — so she kind of invested in us, with pictures and everything like that. Even the first 12" that we made, she put it together. So Main Source was born from that.
K-Cut was the one who named Main Source too. It was funny how that name came about. They said that it was like — the lawyer was like, "Well, what's going to be the name of the group, fellas." I wasn't there. And he thought of Main Ingredient and Creative Source. He was like, "Main Source." When he told me, I'm like, "That's alright. Let's run with that."
MUHAMMAD: That sounds just like Kevin, man.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Word. So, Main Source.
KELLEY: What else was — to take a step back, I guess, what else was happening in New York at that time?
LARGE PROFESSOR: New York. The club scene was — oh, wow. The club scene was just so nice at that time. It was — and then it was at an early — it was still the early stages of hip-hop, so hip-hop was becoming more colorful. It wasn't just like the regular drum machine beats. It was becoming more colorful. You'd hear the sounds, the stabs, the hits, things like that.
And you had this new generation that came up. Like, the guys, the old school guys that came up, they had been rapping since the early — the mid — early to mid '70s till the end of — and they kind of reigned supreme in New York. And New York was really the only region where the world would get their hip-hop from for a second.
So it was like this new generation, this new layer that was kind of born into this kind of just coming up. And I was part of that. And just the club scene was nice. New York was just what people know New York, or what they knew New York, for. I mean, a lot of the reputation and the things New York was known for is not here anymore but it was just --
KELLEY: What do you mean? Like, a certain toughness cause time's were not good?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, the robberies. The gold chains. The Latin Quarters. The sheep skins. The Pumas. The fat laces. Like, New York just embodied all of that, and it spread to the world. It was like all of this energy was right there. Like graffiti. Just all of that hip-hop culture, which derived from gang culture. But we were just more — in the hip-hop world, it was like, "Well, we don't have to fight. We could just shine, and just put this more — we could unite and put this out to the world and let them know like, 'Yo we're talented.'" So it was that kind of thing.
It was just like everything was so much style. It was what we had. We weren't rich or anything. It was just — yo, if you had a pair of Lee's, you tried to keep them crispy for as long as you could. You had the permanent crease in your Lee's, and you just tried to do with what you had. So New York — for hip-hop, New York is hip-hop. It was hip-hop.
KELLEY: Cause there's a sense that New York was at that time not a desirable place to live.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Right. Exactly.
KELLEY: But there was suddenly this representation of the city that made it seem like the best place in the world.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Definitely. Definitely.
KELLEY: So you produced G Rap's "Streets Of New York?"
LARGE PROFESSOR: "Streets Of New York." I produced for Kool G Rap. Myself and Anton Pukshansky, the engineer. Yes.
KELLEY: Can you tell us — can you break that song down?
LARGE PROFESSOR: "Streets Of New York." Well, I mean, it was an honor, first off, to even be in the studio with G Rap. That guy, his mind, his lyrical mind, was just — that's his name. The Kool Genius of Rap. Kool G Rap. Kool Genius of Rap. And I found out what that was about, cause that dude, his wit, just everything — and lightning fast. Like, FiOS, Intel, all of that. Boom. Like lightning. So G Rap was like that.
And he had all of these just really kind of battle rhymes and I think it was like, "Yo, man, we need to get something conceptual. We need to get some really nice and conceptual to put out to the people." Because prior to that his whole first album was just battle rhymes and just going in. He had a few concepts but not something that you could put out to the world on a wide scale. So "Streets Of New York" was that song. He just came in with — it was always a treat coming in with G Rap, going in the studio with G Rap, because I would have my beats — I would have my surprises — and he would have his surprises.
And it would just all mesh in the studio. Like, "Yo, this beat." And he was like, "Yo, this rhyme right here." And it was always a pleasure to see him go in the booth and put down whatever idea that it was.
KELLEY: So he wrote before?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes.
KELLEY: He wrote before and he came in and you — what are the different parts of that beat? Cause it's almost like — I don't think that I'm going to pronounce this word right but — elegiac.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Elegiac?
KELLEY: Is that how you say it? Elegiac.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Is it elegiac?
KELLEY: Like an elegy.
MUHAMMAD: I don't know. I've never heard that word before.
KELLEY: Nobody knows.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Hip-hop!
KELLEY: Scratch that.
MUHAMMAD: I'm like --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Elegiac. Love it.
KELLEY: What I mean is — I mean, that's a story song. It's one of the earlier --
LARGE PROFESSOR: That's the name of my next album. Elegiac. Right there. Elegiac. I love it.
KELLEY: We're still not sure that's how you pronounce it just to be clear. But the way that it moves, the way that the beat moves, is almost a narrative as well.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Mhmm.
KELLEY: And can you say what are the components of that?
LARGE PROFESSOR: OK. Yeah. Definitely. We have — we definitely have that Fatback Band sample, which we just keeping that traditional of what we know hip-hop to be. And that was records, and all these drums flying around.
And that's why I say Anton Pukshansky also because when we were recording, G, he put down the vocals and Anton was sitting and listening; he's engineering. He's like, "Yo, can I try something real quick?" I'm like, "Yeah." So he went in, got on the piano, and kind of put down some pieces. And we were just sitting there kind of surveying --
MUHAMMAD: I thought that was a sample.
LARGE PROFESSOR: No.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
LARGE PROFESSOR: No. So he got on the piano and got on the keyboards and just — cause his heart just like, "Yo, this can be something nice." And so he just added on and it was really nice. It just came together. It just came together really nice, definitely.
KELLEY: It's like a bittersweet kind of tone. That's how I always felt about it.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Nah, cause G, what he was bringing to the table was the raw, honest street truth. That stuff that America really didn't want people to know what was going on. It was like, yo, just lifting the covers up off of that. But it was still good, because I think the music kind of warmed you up to it.
LARGE PROFESSOR: It wasn't like — it wasn't like, "Oh my god. I don't want to hear this anymore," or anything like that. It was like, "Wow." Beause the music was so melodic. It was like, "Wow." It kind of tugged at your heart a little bit. "Wow. Is this really" — you know, people who didn't know. It was like, "Wow. These things are going on? Wow." You know, so --
KELLEY: And it's really long. Like, it's not a radio song.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Word. For hip-hop. Yeah, cause — I mean, but always with me — I don't know. Maybe I'm from — maybe in a past life or something, I'm just the James Brown school where it's like a lot of my songs have bridges and the chorus and the verse --
MUHAMMAD: That's one of the things I always admired about your music. It's conducted well.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Good look. I appreciate — yeah, cause I'm — we're just in there like, "Yo, and then this part. Yo!" Cause I know you — I know — when I listened, and still when I listen, you know when you in the studio you like, "Yo, we gon' get them. Oh! Oh! We gon' get them. They gon' love this!" And that's how it was. Putting the ideas down, it's like, "Oh! Oh no. Wait! Oh nah. We gotta put this in there cause — ah. Watch. When we put this in there. Oh, that's gon' be it. This — they gon' love this." So that was — that's always the thing, and just building. Just building, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: You said in "Mad Scientist," "I never had a basement. I never had an attic. Just an apartment where I forever had static."
LARGE PROFESSOR: "Where I forever had static."
MUHAMMAD: Yo, I mean, I'ma probably later on bring out a few of your lines cause I just love the — you paint these pictures that's just so clear. It's like it brings you right there. And to me, again, in asking you what's New York, what's the backdrop of New York, to me, that's one of those lines that really paints a picture.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Right. I mean, over the years, that's been kind of soul stirring for me, cause it's like — they say, you know, the energy you put out and things like that, but when I really sat and thought about it, that's hip-hop. Didn't hip-hop start at — what is it — 1520 Cedric Avenue in an apartment building? So I'm like, "Wow. I kind of put out what hip-hop was." We didn't have a basement or an attic. We were just in the apartment in the community room of the apartment building, and people telling us, "Oh, turn that down. Oh, y'all gotta get out of there with that."
I remember me going to break dance, I mean, in the earlier days of hip-hop. And Run-D.M.C. kind of represented that era of hip-hop, where — they came out like that. It was like, "We don't need a band." They were against everything in America, like what America stereotyped music and everything. "No, we just got Jam Master Jay and his hands." That kind of thing.
So it was an extension of that, like Treach. And then, like I said, I come from the blues kind of — I'm kind of — I don't know. I categorize my stuff as like blues rap kind of, where it's like, "Alright. Cool." But you know, it's like that struggle kind of, like a little pinch of struggle. It's like, alright, that kind of keeps you on your toes. Yeah, that line, when I thought about it, because, through the years, and just having to perform that song is just, "Wow. This is" --
And then it was kind of to counter all that was going on at that time, cause everyone was like, "Oh, three CD sets with the mansion and the yacht." And it was like, "Really? Word? Nah. Nah. Nah. Nah." I was more like with Treach and them where it was like, "Yo, if you ain't from the ghetto, you should stay out the ghetto." Cause that's what I knew. That's what I knew. It was cool because hip-hop was going somewhere else and it was like, "Alright, well, we're making money now. You can let go of that."
But it was just one last shot of that, one last of dose of that, and we can go to the mansion now, that kind of thing.
MUHAMMAD: So is that what you meant when you said "hip-hop hell?"
LARGE PROFESSOR: "Hip-hop hell" is an extension, like I said, with Run-D.M.C. Like, "Alright. Y'all guys gotta get out of there. Y'all guys" — like, when we would break, we would try to break in the hallway of the buildings. Cause its floors were nice and smooth. They waxed them and everything, and we thought that was for us. Like, "Oh, we gon' get our windbreakers, and we gon' be able to spin forever now" and these things. "Get your pad. Put your pad on your head and head spins and windmills."
And the people would come in like, "Y'all boys gotta get out of there with that." But people would be stopping like, "Wow. That's incredible. You guys are really" — and inspired by it. People would be coming home from work and just — you imagine someone's coming from a whole full day of work and will just stop and not go straight home. Stop and just sit there and watch. And like, "Wow. You guys are" — you know, so we were kind of decorating the world and just kind of putting on shows, I mean, and that what was happening on the trains and everything.
It was just at that time America just — I always go back to MC Shan, "Living In The World Of Hip-Hop." He nailed it. He nailed it with that song. He prophesized that. He was like, "Yo. In a minute, the world is going to embrace hip-hop totally, just fully, with open arms, and squeeze it tight." But at that time, it was like a battle. It was like, "Nah, you guys gotta get out of here with that, man. Turn that down!" You know, all of that kind of stuff.
MUHAMMAD: So we go through that being the backdrop to being the inspiration to the birth of sound, energy, feeling, a movement. Cause like you spoke about the beginning of hip-hop from early '70s to the '80s, it opened up the door, but it was — the color was brought in after that.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: So all of that, sort of, adversity and then, you know, "Splash." What you guys come with. Main Source. What we come with. There's so many different groups we can go into. And then we get to the now era of music expression and what is the difference of New York now?
LARGE PROFESSOR: The difference — yeah, well, I think what really just happened is just the world now — at one time, it starts in one concentrated area and then it just spreads, and you have different interpretations. And it's like, "Alright, New York, you had your chance. Now the light, the energy, is with this region." And that's all that has happened.
And it was more of a — what I think really happened was a lot of the people from maybe the Southern region, they were — you know how they were in the beginning. It was like, "Yo, we gotta — if we rocking in New York, we good." And a lot of these people, they were coming to New York, and seeing the potholes and the homeless people and just all of this crazy stuff. And they like, "What? Man, forget New York. Where we live — we living better than New York."
MUHAMMAD: "It's lovely."
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, that kind of thing. So it was just like they kind of tapped into that and was like, "Yo" — and they figured out that this industry — like, we were coming in and making magic happen with a few dollars. And then once the industry embraced hip-hop then it became an industry, and it was like, "Alright. This is big money now." So I think the other regions kind of figured out, "Alright. Well, we can have our interpretation and pair that with a whole bunch of money and it'll be good. We can bypass New York, the home of hip-hop. We don't have to be accepted in New York. We can just come with something because it's now an industry." And that's what I think happened.
And now it's just wildfire. Now it's just off and rampant now, just running rampant now.
MUHAMMAD: Does it --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Which is cool. It's cool. The music today, I can find a few songs, a few beats, that are cool. Like, I'm not the angry dude that's like, "Ah, I don't like any of this." Some of it is banging. Some of the Chris Brown — I mean, a lot of the stuff. Young Chop. A lot of the beats. Like, some of them, I hear them I'm like, "Yeah. That's nice right there." It's — it bugs me out sometimes because a lot of what's on the air is what we would consider slow jams. You know what I'm saying?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Because the momentum is like, "He's rhyming over a slow jam right now." But that's just what comes with life and history and knowledge. It's just like, alright, we have knowledge. So it's like the more that we live, we're going to able to liken this to that, and whereas these new artists, they don't — you say "slow jam;" they like, "Nah, I'm brand new. I'm 20 years old. What's a slow jam?" This is what they know so that's what they put out there, so it's cool.
MUHAMMAD: Does any of the, I say now, or newer hip-hop generation, does anyone contact you or reach out to you either for production or just to get into the head, to get some information?
LARGE PROFESSOR: I speak — I kind of chop it up with — one thing is for sure. One thing's for sure. Whoever I've encountered has had respect. And that, I'm happy. Because you know how coming up with us, it was kind of different.
MUHAMMAD: It was hard.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. It was kind of different to be embraced by the old --
MUHAMMAD: We had to earn the respect.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes! We had to earn that respect. And so, because this is an industry now, it's like, we're all going into the same box. Bob Marley, Tribe Called Quest, Large Professor, Soulja Boy. We're all going into the same box: music. It's gon' just be, "Alright, that's music." When someone doesn't want to listen to music, that box is closed, and it's just one little sector of life.
So it's like, "Alright. Cool." Once you know and understand that — and everyone's going to have their time. Like Prince. When I think about the industry and think of how Prince doesn't reign supreme — in some way, he does; but in this industry, it's like, Prince should always be the — you know what I mean?
LARGE PROFESSOR: The. You know what I mean? They should just name him "thee." Cause, like, for real.
KELLEY: That's what that symbol was.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. That's what the symbol was. Yeah.
So I'm like, once you see that and you realize, alright, this is what the industry is, it kind of warms you up. And you see the new guy, and you know he shining right now and he's doing his thing, you think of Elvis. You think of just the history of — and that's one of the edges of us going and collecting records did for us. We would turn the record around and read the credits and know the history of, "Oh, wow, this artist — and he" — that kind of thing. We're a special generation because we really really payed attention to the predecessors and really studied them.
And just knowing what I know, it's just a good feeling I meet a new artist and it's like, "Yo, that's Large Professor." They definitely know the name and they like, "Oh, wow." And then now they able to actually — I mean, I'm just happy for hip-hop in general, because that's what everyone is here — like all these artists, these spinoff genres, and crunk and all of these things, that all derives from hip-hop. So I'm just — I'm just happy that we made it this far and just still in the world. The world, like Shan said, like MC Shan said, we living in a world of hip-hop right now.
MUHAMMAD: What do you think has been the key of longevity from your eyes, from your perspective?
LARGE PROFESSOR: Of hip-hop?
MUHAMMAD: Just in having a nice long career.
LARGE PROFESSOR: For hip-hop or for myself?
MUHAMMAD: For yourself.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Oh. Just being rooted. Just being rooted. I look at hip-hop like a tree. Hip-hop is like a tree to me. It's like, I was lucky enough to be a part of that early, the early bark where the root of it — and it's still growing. There're branches. There're all of these branches, and there're leaves that are getting the light right now. But the root is what it is. So, I hold on to a lot of the root, the root things. You know, like, "Yo, man. You want to split a sandwich?" Like, cause we did a lot with a little. And I like to keep that. I like to keep that. Let's continue to do a lot with a little.
Of course, we've blown up in the world. Mansions, you know, and all of that. And, yo, this and this and this. It's like, yo, that's cool. I love to see hip-hop get there, but the origins of hip-hop was like, yo, man — dudes were fit. Nobody was sloppy. Everybody was fit, and we were kind of like warriors. You know, Zulu. Everybody was tight like, "Yo. C'mon, man. Let's go over there and do some windmills or spin and things like that. And stay fit and do our thing."
LARGE PROFESSOR: I try to hold on to those things. I can't do any windmills anymore, but I just — just walk in the streets, you know what I mean? I'm not all in the Maybach and all of that, even though I've driven in Maybachs and all of that. It's cool, but I still like to walk to street. I still like to just do the things that we did in hip-hop. Go to the record store. Walk to the record store. Get a sandwich afterwards. Get a juice. Get on the train.
And it's good. Cause now I have more money, and it's like — it was a challenge at first, but now it's good because you can't be scared of your own people. You can't. So you get on the train and someone comes up, "Yo! What's up, man? Wow, man." Like, coming in this building just now, two — the guards standing in front was like, "Yo. What's up, man. LP." And I always want that, man. I always want that.
I don't want it — a lot of people, a lot of artists, they get overwhelmed by this industry, and they become kind of sheltered, just off, man. It's terrible, because it tears people up. You see people they feel like they can't go here; they can't do this. And it's like, "Nah, man. We used to stand up for ourselves and represent ourselves." Like, "Yo, who are you?" "I'm blah blah blah." And it's like, "Alright. Well, peace." "Peace. Good to meet you." That's what hip-hop is.
MUHAMMAD: You're talking about just staying grounded. And I ask you this because, one, you always the had the gray hair from a --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. Of course. Of course.
MUHAMMAD: So, that ain't nothing new. It's just a few more sprinkles, but that's always been there. But yo, you always look young. Like always.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah, the young old dude. Like, yo, the young old young old — I don't know. It depends on which way the sun is shining on me. It's like, "Is he old? Is he young? What is he?"
KELLEY: No. Between the two of you it's like the fountain of youth in this room.
MUHAMMAD: But I ask that because you always — every time I see you from day one since I met you — you always had that young old, you know what I mean? It's something to that man right there. It's like he got the answer to life. I always felt that about you, and just moving through the industry and knowing the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs and everything --
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yes. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: — that we deal with. The New York life, living in a box, an apartment that's 11 by whatever.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Yeah. Word.
MUHAMMAD: Just the things that you talk about. People coming home from work and was like, "Shut that up. I want to" — all these things.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Word.
MUHAMMAD: You still — you have this glow, and you walk through the Rotten Apple. And to be a person who's seen the world, you still travel the world, and I know you're DJing and doing all these things. And you're still making hot beats.
LARGE PROFESSOR: I appreciate that. Yes, sir.
MUHAMMAD: So it's just I wanted to get your perspective. Cause I look at you and it's just pure knowledge.
LARGE PROFESSOR: I appreciate that.
MUHAMMAD: And I know you drop it in the lyrics and the albums. You kick it from a New Yorkers perspective. But outside of the music I just wanted to ask you that.
LARGE PROFESSOR: Appreciate that. And it's funny you say that. Because going to Japan and just seeing Japan, it's kind of crazy. Because you go — we think we have it a way here, and then you go to Japan and you see like something even more condensed and like, "Wow. You're doing this with this? Wow. I'm kind of in a palace here."
So it's always something better and something that may not add up as much as. And it's just like, I'm thankful to have seen — I've been to Hollywood and I've been to the craziest place in damn Germany, where it's like slender room and the bed is hard and all of this kind of stuff, where it's just been like, "Yo. The dude just got knocked out." It was some real for real — like, New York is like Candyland compared to this place in Germany.
So definitely it's — I just try to take all of that in and alongside hip-hop. Because the world — MC Shan said it: we're living in the world of hip-hop.
(Check back soon for Part 2 of the Microphone Check interview with Large Professor.)