Who did you interview? Funkmaster Flex
When did it take place? Over three days in March 2006
Where did the story run? Nowhere. Planned as a profile for Vibe’s September issue, the story got killed after a new EIC took over the magazine.
Why are you publishing this now? Profiles of Hot 97 personalities are popular these days. I want in on that.
Money Quote? “I’ve never said this: I like the car business better than I like the music business.”
Anything Else? “You ever hear a person say they want to live forever? Over the last couple of years, I realized that I don’t want to live forever because the best part of my life with music has passed me and that day will never come again.”
Do you like Marbury?
I think Stephon is talented. The only thing I give Stephon in defense is that he’s never had the right coach.
He’s been in the league for ten years. Not one coach?
They’ve never understood him. Even with Larry Brown, those aren’t really his players if he wants to get it popping. I went to Pace University. I was always in honors and high honors. I was always an honors student. My girlfriend at the time was high honors so I was trying to compete. I went to Pace University and majored in Sociology because I wanted to be a social worker. I thought I would be able to talk to people but I’ve learned it isn’t as easy as I thought it was. I didn’t know it at the time, but going to college was definitely what helped me get into the music business or just doing music. It also helped me understand that it’s a business. While other rappers or DJ’s are smoking weed all night or drinking, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that for them, but to do business, you can’t get up and conduct business as effectively as someone who is not smoking weed and has a college education. If you mix college education with a little bit of street smarts, it goes a lot a long way. Who’s the guy with the television show?
The guy with the television show? That narrows it down.
Donald Trump is a smart person with street smarts. Puffy, Master P, smart guys. It’s a combo. You have to know when someone is bullshitting you too, and school doesn’t teach you that.
What made you not want to be a social worker?
I was still going to school for it but I got a job carrying records for a guy named Chuck Chillout. I was carrying records for him. I worked at Kiss FM, I worked at WBLS first. When I worked at BLS, I gave up school and felt like I was going to pursue the radio thing. By pursuing that, I kind of gave up on going to school. I also wanted to be a chef. When I went for social work at Pace, I stopped that for two years but before I started working on the radio, I went to New York Tech for culinary. I wanted to go to the Culinary Institute in Westchester. I wanted to own a restaurant. I was fascinated with being an apprentice and learning from some of the best chefs. To me, the cooking business is a combination of education and street smarts because you can be the best cook in the world but how will you let people know where your restaurant is and what restaurant is about. That brings up marketing. There is not really a blueprint for having a hot restaurant it can break in different type of ways. That was what fascinated me too because I felt like if I could do the job, I could create the marketing. That’s something I always wanted to do, learn how to market. Kid Capri and Clark Kent were DJ’s I looked up to when I was coming through. Kid Capri had tapes and was selling his tapes at Brook Burger. In 1990, Clark Kent was the biggest club DJ and Kid Capri was the biggest mix tape DJ. He was a mix tape DJ but could really play the clubs. I paid attention to marketing from then and I knew that’s what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like them. I never had a doubt in my mind that I would go further than they did, only because I think I had a different outlook of the game. I was doing something I loved but I saw a lot of DJ’s not take it into business. They didn’t have to. Some people just wanted to have fun and make a few dollars. Some people just want to have a three-year run where they are in the music business and then go back to a career. I’m 38 now. I feel like I was in my 20’s and didn’t think I had time that if I did this and if this didn’t go 100% I could do something else. That was always my drive like, ‘If I leave culinary, I got to make this work.’ I like doing it. I like DJing. I played a lot of clubs. In college, I played more house parties. In college, I figured I should get to the Black Student Union and do parties. I was always a good talker. I don’t have anyone that manages me or an agent, I do it myself. DJing was always important to me. I always wanted to be big. I always wanted people to just say, ‘Hey, there goes that guy. He’s a DJ.’ I knew radio was the key. I never had a doubt in my mind. I was always looking outside in. BLS already had Mr. Magic, Marley Marl, a host of big DJ's. Capri made his mark a little bit but when you think of the heritage of that station, you think of Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. Kiss Fm is Red Alert’s station no matter what. I knew that my career couldn’t be on either of those two stations. I had to be at another station. I had to have my own avenue. Hot 97 wasn’t looking for a hip-hop DJ. I was playing some nights. Kiss had Friday night and Hot had Saturday night at this club. I was playing on KISS FM night because that’s where I was working so I was filling in and doing stuff. Louie Vega quit on Saturday night and a few people I knew told me that they would call me about Saturday night. Hot 97 came down; they didn’t offer me a job but they wanted to see how I played. I made a tape, Stretch and Bobbito made a tape and Ed Lover and Dr. Dre made a tape and a guy named Eddie B. Slick made a tape. They gave me the job. I got hired there in 1992. It was still a house station. I used to play dance records in my mix. It was considered the Street Party or Street Jam but it was still played for their audience. They never gave me directions, but I figured out that I better include some of the regular stuff they played on the station. That was a great time in my life. Playing music and the first couple of years before the politics and the fake friends set in.
But judging from what you told me, you already knew it was the music business.
I think that at that point I didn’t understand…I was more trying to understand the DJ business. I think I didn’t get, I didn’t gravitate to understanding the whole pie. I definitely, I didn’t know it…When I saw Kid Capri on Def Jam Comedy Jam and I was going out of state and noticing that people were putting on the flyer, ‘Kid Capri from Def Comedy Jam’ and not from BLS, I realized I had to get on TV. Kid Capri had the blueprint. I don’t think Kid Capri planned the blueprint, I think the blueprint fell into what he was doing. Getting on TV…This is my body shop, we’re heading to. This is where I tape my ESPN show. I feel like even now, everyone wants to be on BET and MTV; you can’t only be on those networks. There’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do that. For me, I think I’ve just been down that road a lot. It’s a good road, but I’m onto something. MTV helped get into the Viacom system, which helped get me onto Spike TV. And even Spike TV, I love Spike TV but….
There hasn’t been that much written about you growing up.
People are always think that because of my success…Everyone has a little setbacks. But because of my success, people think that I’ve never made any mistakes. I was always a conscious young man, conscious bad scared. I never knew what I was going to be in life. My father worked for a film company called Movie Lab and my mother was the head nurse at a hospital. I grew up in the Northeast Bronx, where it was heavy West Indian. I’m born here but my parents are West Indian. The music was always around me. I think maybe now, I can remember things today because I cleaned out my basement in these last three weeks. There were so many key records I remember, and people I remember and people that passed away…I just got a letter today from a guy in jail that I remember his garage, I used to DJ in. He wasn’t asking for much, I guess his friend has a demo. But remembering that garage, I remember that point in my life where I really wanted to DJ. Back then, you just wanted to have a crew, and some hot MC’s. Back then, the Cold Crush Brothers were the ultimate of cool. They were so cool; it was almost corny for them to make records. And all their rhymes were about how fly they were. Treacherous Three, Grandmaster Flash, those guys weren’t cool. You didn’t want to dress like them or be like them. You wanted to dress like the Cold Crush. It was like an immediate understanding that… If you went to a battle or a show in the 80s and the Cold Crush Brothers were in the crowd and you saw a big group like Kurtis Blow or Flash shout them out like they were overseeing the party. ‘Shout to the Cold Crush Brothers.’ It immediately gives you perspective like, We’re successful, we made it with records but those are the real street dudes. Like Lord Finesse was for a long time. He didn’t get his reputations off none of those records. He didn’t battle you, Lord Finesse would get on if the mic was open and everybody else was freestyling and no one would get on after him. It was understood that no one would get on after Lord Finesse, until he used to say, ‘I’m going to bring my man, Big L.’ Then it was understood that he was passing the torch to Big L. I’ve lived through every era of hip hop. Rapper’s Delight, man. I grew up in a skating rink in the Bronx that I would give up my right arm to DJ in. I wasn’t allowed to go into the street so I would be DJing and mixing at my window and kids would…I had a big tree in front of my house and my dad made a brick stoop like you could hop on and sit on. All the kids in the neighborhood would sit there in front of my house. They would always talk about who was at the club last night or Flash. They didn’t want to rhyme and they didn’t want to DJ but they loved going to it. (He gets really quiet when he says something he thinks is important.) EMC bit JDL. ‘Ahh yeah.’ That was all JDL. I was listening to a song a week ago, ‘One two, one two and I say, Party people you’re dreams have now been fulfilled.’ It was an old Funky Four plus One record, and I didn’t consider it biting but for me to hear, it’s fascinating to listen to some of those records now. They were so natural. I learned recently that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were so big because they had the Casanovas, which were a gang, backing them. They were able to get all the clubs. That was the difference between Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore, he had the muscle. It wasn’t that he looked for the muscle, the muscle looked for him. To me it was amazing because it was like crack on the block. Whoever has the most strength. Thirty years later, the difference between one DJ and the other was this. The Furious Five were muscular, when you were coming up you were scared of them. You felt like they could fight. I read a magazine and started asking questions and found out that those guys used to push them around. I heard that they would pull up in a U-Haul truck and roll up forty deep. There are no windows, no air in that bitch. To see it now, it’s incredible. I never knew why this guy and not the other. I never understood politics. Grandmaster Flash and Crash Crew had the same people. Theirs was called “Freedom.’ Crash Crew was like ‘We don’t want to be left behind/ We just want to blow your mind/ Just one more time.’ And that was the hot street record like ‘The Benjamin’s.’ But on the radio, you only heard the Grandmaster Flash version. You never heard the other version on the radio unless it was like the late night mix shows and those didn’t start until 84, so this is years after the song was in its prime. Sugar Hill Gang were in charge of the radio. They were paying Mr. Magic, I don’t care if you print it. I was like Wow. It was amazing for how things went. I loved DJing and mixing. I thought it was so cool to see the Kangol’s. I remember I started making tapes in high school, Our Savior Lutheran High School. I went to a Catholic High School before that. My parents were Catholic and I changed religions to Lutheran because of a girl friend in Junior High.
What? What did your parents say?
They weren’t mad at first. They were like, ‘Let him breath. Let’s see how he’s going to move.’ I never changed back but I started going to Catholic Church again. Her father was a pastor.
And that was the only way you could date her?
No but when they bring it up…She never pressured me but she was smart about it. They were along in helping me. I was an alter boy in high school. I thought it was cool to assist the pastor. Red Alert was…Zulus were very big in the DJ. Red Alert was like a master. It could be Jazzy Jay on the set and it would ‘Shout to Red Alert. Red Alert make your body work.’ He was a DJ but it was a cool saying, like ‘Yes, yes yall you don’t stop.’ This kid in high school asked me to make him a tape. And this guy was like the coolest kid in class and I was a fucking nerd. He had a bag of tapes and was going through it and he said, ‘Oh that’s Red Alert going berserk, you can have that.’ This is when he was once a month so people used to tape it. I started looking for it. I couldn’t break dance. I wanted to be hip hop. I didn’t know what was going to further, how I was going to make it.
Did you try to rap?
I tried to write but I wasn’t clever enough. I didn’t have enough life experiences because I was inside too much. As a kid, I didn’t see. My knowledge of music was a car going by, I was usually at my window. That’s why kids started coming by because I was cutting by my window.
How did you get your first records and tables?
I used to get $4 a day lunch money so if I saved my lunch money Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I could go buy two songs. This is like 10th grade.
You grew up working class, middle class?
Depends what you consider it. My dad probably made $40,000 and my mom made $70000. They were always striving for more. They were right. There was key things in my life that would have never made my career pop. My parents got divorced when I was in 11th grade. Imagine from 9th-11th grade I was always practicing DJing and now I’m in the 12th grade, live with my mom and allowed to stay out late. I was trying to gravitate to DJs and MCs. You only had one shot to DJ. Oh, you DJ? Go ahead, get on. I never considered myself nice. It was all about how fly you could cut the beat while the guy was rapping. Because I came from another neighborhood, my style of cutting was different, so I was a mixture of old school and new school. I was first with the West Indian part of town and now I was with American kids. I had a collection of records from my mom. I was always…Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, their DJ was called Scratch on Galaxy. I don’t know if I learned about marketing or I understand it. Jam Master Jay, when he first came through people thought he was wack because he wasn’t fast and wasn’t sharp. He was coming out of an era that was about flash and skills and fast and clean. Jam Master Jay and Flash were once at an equal level when they walked in a club and it was ‘Ahh.’ Flash came from the speed and Jam Master was I got hot records and a big MC. I always loved him because he always had hard records. There was niggas that was nice but would have pretty boy scratches. Flash was pretty and hard, while Jam Master was just hard so he got more attention. He was the rubbing the right…You ever heard, ‘Here we go, here we go…’ There’s a point where he lets it go, ‘I’ve got the big D’s’ and it was like and there was a rule not come on when your MC was rhyming. I knew DJ’s where the needle would jump and they would still catch before it. I know the rhyme because I remember the tape, he goes, ‘To me, wack DJ’s are a thing of the past, the past, the past.’ It was understood that when the needle jumped, the MC had to jump on wherever it came and the DJ would get in on the one. You would be fucked up for a half a bar but you would then bring it back. Jam Master would cut these big beats with long breaks and other DJ’s were like, ‘Ugh.’ But he had the beard, the hat, the coolness, the elbow, he had all the marketing. It wasn’t really about the MC’s being big. Grandmaster D who DJed for Whodini, they were just as super huge at one time as Run DMC but he didn’t get that look because he didn’t have that feel. Jam Master Jay wanted to be a DJ so he wanted to scratch hard on the record. That was the first time I realized that I was watching people who were complaining like, ‘Oh Flash wants to battle Jam Master Jay and…’ I was never a fast DJ, my speed came after I was blown. To really keep it real, I became faster and the guys who were faster than me fell off like Clark Kent, DJ Scratch. They were faster, spin it back. I know I’m talking a lot of DJ shit. There was a period when spinning it back was considered corny, it was called Needle Dropping so you had to needle drop and spin forward and catch it. That was considered corny. I always maintained two different eras. I always loved the Chuck Chillout, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore but I always paid attention to the Kid Capri, Clark Kent and DJ Scratch’s. I always knew that the Grand Master Flash way of doing things wouldn’t have sounded 100% good on the radio but if I could have a piece of that element and incorporate what’s in style then I would get a lot of attention. I didn’t come from a powerful part of the Bronx that was known for hip hop and Chuck Chillout had a great personality so my thing in the 90’s was that I could cut and play the right record. DJ’s who could cut usually liked to play what sounds good getting cut, not what the crowd wanted. Kid Capri and Clark Kent were good at that too.
Talk to me about when Hot 97 went all hip hop.
We were at a crossroads for like a year. I had big ratings on Friday but the dance DJ had big ratings on Saturday. A consultant came in and said, ‘You got to get rid of one.’ We did both live, he ended up getting good money and going to KTU. I ended up getting Saturday nights. I was doing Friday nights from 12-2. They gave me a slot that was guaranteed to lose. The program director didn’t want me to win. The GM was on his back to get hip hop on the station and he put in a place where he thought I would lose, 12-2. It was a slot that had techno, house, and any garbage show that was ever on. This guy was the Godfather, the big boss. He wasn’t sour when he got fired though, he was a man about it. I used to work at KISS when it was the big station, the number 1 station. People were calling me ‘nigger’ when they were calling me up and not playing their records. I always made it a history lesson, like alright we’re going to the clubs. My name Funkmaster Flex came because I liked Grandmaster Flash…On Hot 97, EPMD, Das EFX and everyone was visually an image. OK, Madonna was a Z100 Artist. What I had learned early, Das EFX and EPMD, I’m never going to own those artists because they’ve been on BLS and KISS for years. So I was big into new artists like Onyx, Jeru, Black Moon so that I could create the history. I could be like, ‘I saw them last night,’ or ‘Premier gave me this.’ Did you listen to Stretch and Bobbito on KCR?
If that station would have went along to what that show was and played those records during the day, that would have been a huge station. It would have burned out faster but it would have been a hit movement. If you take with what’s working in a two hour slot…This is the only difference between me and Stretch, my radio station – and I know his was a college station and couldn’t do it – supported my movement and started taking the records from my show and started putting them on during the day. Red Alert was breaking a ton of records but KISS wasn’t playing them during the day. They weren’t getting the life that they should get. That was so strange to me, that the radio station was supporting what was going on at night.
It was really just right place, right time?
It was totally right place, right time. I’ll never say it was about I was the man in the clubs and when it was time to reach out… The clubs was packed because of the music. To listen to the hot shit getting thrown on. There were DJ’s that were still stuck on the Das EFX’s. I knew I couldn’t be the undisputed king until I had my own club. I was the man on the radio but until I get in those trenches and get in there every week…Kids saw me on TV, but I needed the Tunnel. Hot 97 was louder than KISS FM. So if you would punch in on your dial and Flex is on and it’s louder, you think he’s fucking bigger but it’s not, its smoke and mirrors. I always knew why I had these advantages. I was on a station that was 60% white, 20% Spanish and 20% Black and that’s why I never wanted to work for KISS and BLS because I wanted a diverse audience. I always wanted that.
I listened to your show on Friday nights, but the first time I heard about you was when Rosie Perez name dropped you on the Letterman Show. That was like fall 93, right after he moved there from NBC. I was watching that episode.
That was big for me. She said, ‘I go to the Palladium on Funkmaster Flex night.’ She was just shouting me out. I was still very underground then so she was fighting to stay street. We never had dialogue. We’ve walked past each other in clubs. She didn’t know me so I knew what she was doing. She was trying to look street. Letterman saying that was…I got to meet him. They get pissed because of how often I played. I got Howard too saying, ‘I listen to Funkmaster Flex every night when I have sex.’ He shit on me a couple of times. I was the only dog in town. My skills didn’t come until…Right place, right time and then picking the right records was good but the Tunnel solidified me as a Hip Hop DJ. Playing four hours, flipping records, playing records at the right moment, setting the tone of the club. It proved that I had what it takes. There was fog, smoke, so much street slang. I wasn’t doing it for the money. 2000, I thought about it because I was getting older. Irv Gotti was once outside in the rain with Mic Geronimo pushing ‘The Shit is Real.’ He gave it to me, and I went upstairs, this is when I was on at 10 o’clock and I played it. I’m a beast when it comes to competition. A career I haven’t been able to understand was Ron G. What I call successful, is different from other people. What basketball was to me and you in high school, where we played once a week was what DJing was to them. I knew this DJ who used to DJ with these MCs in the Bronx, DJ Charlie Chan. He’s now working at Coke. Coke a Cola. He’s so past it. Pepsi is a company that spends money on anything and everything but Coke doesn’t need to spend money on hip hop, it’s their brand. For him to do the person to do that. I know another DJ that now owns a pharmacy.
How do you feel that these guys have moved on and you’re still doing it?
It was a great part of his life. When I was young, rolling skating was real big. There were certain type of moves, there were certain ways you dressed. That was my first thirst of attention. I wanted to be that guy. But there was one guy even cooler, the DJ. He was the fucking man. This is like 79, 80. I went to a roller rink twice a week and this was a step up. I think that hip hop and we call it hip hop but things change. There is no Stretch and Bobbito. There is no show like Stretch and Bobbito anymore. I remember Tribe Called Quest going up there and freestyling, ahh man.
That time is gone. (Producer interrupts us now and starts talking about setting the list up for next Tuesday when LL is coming up to the show.)
They were replacing Naughty. There was a time when Treach wanted to fight me. They were wondering why I wasn’t playing their records anymore. But shit like Onyx was taking off. I used to think these people were my friends. I really did. We were in the same struggle together. I played in a club once with Redman and Biggie, before they had a deal. I remember Biggie got booed. Jeru, Black Moon, they weren’t really doing it bigger than the other rappers, it was just the time they came. I lived every era. I lived Rapper’s Delight, Hammer, EPMD, Run DMC, Whodini, Young MC, the pop shit when it got nuts, House of Pain. 1990 was a time where stars were coming and it wasn’t a bunch of money and the guy came. I love Puff, but 94, 95, it was who had more money. Who had the glitter and the shine to be a celebrity. Remember, Jay-Z was coming out at that time and he couldn’t get a fucking break. His videos didn’t cost as much as Puff’s, his backing wasn’t, he was a street rapper doing his thing. 1990 man, I went to Leaders of the New School’s first show. It was an Elektra Records showcase. Pete Rock was playing the music. Leaders were coming on, everyone was like, ‘Ehhh.’ Charlie Brown was like, ‘Let my shit come on first. If my shit is wack, I’ll get the fuck up out of here.’ They did their songs and it was crazy. Leaders of the New School were all Cold Crush Brothers. And they never fronted about it. Since I was from the Bronx, I gravitated to it and I thought it was incredible. I was still down with Chuck who was into, PE’s album was dying, and NWA had lost its bite. I loved that movement man and I was the only one playing. Nobody else was fucking with Onyx. Do you remember the Box?
Do you remember, ‘When I pop the trunk, hit the deck.’
‘John Wayne couldn’t even stand the reign of the tec.’ Yeah, the Beatnuts.
(Laughs) That was some hard shit. That record broke on there. The Box used to set my phones off. I was like ‘What the fuck is this Beatnuts record. I need it.’ When I first played it, the phones were going crazy. It didn’t work in the club but, it was hard. Black Moon. I used to do A&R at Profile Records. I had a tape of House of Pain, I brought it in and they passed. They had good records. Their movement though…In 1990, rappers weren’t jealous of other rappers. No generic, no bullshit. ‘Yo that shit is hot. That shit you got on your album is hot.’ I used to watch it all night. I saw every era. It was a little bit of weed. It wasn’t the get high coke era like the 80’s where rappers like Kurtis Blow were bugging the fuck out. I don’t care if you put that in there. Well you know, a lot of niggas don’t say what it is and what it was. They still love the game but I couldn’t be Kurtis Blow and not have money. That’s an ultimate hustle, for Kurtis Blow, that shouldn’t happen. I would’ve opened up a school for hip hop and teach classes.
It’s so funny how you were the main proponent of this music that so-called purists adore, and now those same people who listened to you break these records think you’re the devil.
They hate me. They wanted me to be finished like the way they’re finished. The Bad Boy era came and I was the first person to play Craig Mack. Nobody knew what that record. This was a street record with a lot of money behind it. It wasn’t a wack record. Craig Mack was in a group with EPMD called Easy and True. EPMD’s old DJ got in an argument with the group and left the group - the guy before K La Boss. The one before that got into beef, left the group, gave the label two other rappers. I remember that kid, to me he was retro. I was like, I’m busting this record. This nigga is lucky to be breathing. Premier chopping up that R Kelly record so early in the game to make “Unbelievable” was unheard of. He made it cool to take a record on the radio, chop it and make it a hit. That movement was coming but even Premier, the purist of them all, was doing songs with Big and was feeling the movement. A lot of guys were shitting on Puff…Puff in Daddy’s House was a night club and we saw him jumping around and grabbing the mic so to them he was a party promoter. So Black Moon and Lords of the Underground were seeing him come through and they were like, ‘This is a fucking party promoter.’ “Nah B, he loves hip hop.’ My first encounter with Puffy. I was supposed to play in this club and Capri and Clark were killing this club. They had their DJ skills at level 10, not cutting but just thinking what they were going to play next. I was never jealous of them, I always admired them. I was always watching and watching and watching. I could always pick the record they would play. I could always gauge the reaction. I was like, ‘But this record is bigger.’ I remember telling Puff that I wanted to play in the club and he was screaming at me, ‘Yo motherfucker, I’m saying you’re not in here next week. Stop fucking bugging me, you’re fucking annoying.’ He was right. I was annoying and he was the man. And that’s what meant in business, when the man shit on you, they shit on you. I never held it against him. The night that I played there, in 1991, at the Red Zone, the party was called Daddy’s House and I killed it. Puffy sent me a bottle of Moet. He said ‘The crowd loves you.’ I came there every week for ten weeks in a row. I knew what records were played in the room so I was like, ‘I’m going to throw on Nobody Beats the Biz,’ only because I studied the room. Puff didn’t think I was better than those guys but that I was a good number three. And I agree, I wasn’t as good as them. I had to learn how to be a commercial DJ, I had to learn how to be a hood DJ for the street motherfucker in Harlem who don’t want R&B. ‘Yeah, Harlem, shout to all my niggas getting money, busting their gat.’ That’s what it was like back then. It was mostly S&S and Ron G. Hamptons was Boris. He played clubs in the city but was the big Hamptons DJ. I had to hold a lot of titles. At one point, I was the big Hamptons DJ, hood DJ, radio DJ, club DJ. I was the only African American DJ that was playing in the white clubs. I always knew what it entailed. I piggybacked something. Puffy couldn’t be in every place at every time. People used to say, ‘Why is Flex playing Bad Boy Records?’ I was a big Bad Boy supporter. Pay Flex $2500 and he’ll come here and get it popping. Puff was endorsing me and I was endorsing him. I never not embraced the music. I think that’s why I was one of the few DJ’s to last. Ne-Yo and Bow Wow, I understand it. It might not be my personal preference when I’m driving in my car but I know why its successful and I know why it sounds good. R&B is at its height right now. There are like ten R&B artists doing well. It struggled for like seven, eight years but now it’s back. Rap is Jay-Z, Puffy, Ludacris these are all smart guys. Dame Dash to a point because he let the split rattle him. These guys, I learned a lot from watching Puffy. I wanted to be big nationally and couldn’t leave the radio. I was like, if I could have a hit record and video then people could see me in other states. I’ve always understood it so I was like, let me make an album. My first album went gold, and I wound up doing five gold albums. There was always something in me that I wanted to be like Jam Master Jay. Having those gold albums were important. In 2005, I put out a gold DVD that I packaged as an album. Reinvention man. These kids have to have something new, you’ve got to reinvent. My space is reinvention. How do I reinvent the movement. Jay-Z man, everything is hood. Basketball, sneakers, clothing, president of rap label. That’s still hood. To the corporate world, it’s here’s a rapper running a label. Puffy, he has the cologne, the comedy show. Mase, and all that was great, they just happened to be the rappers that was in the system when the money was pouring. I could have made my mother sell records. That’s not what Puffy is most influential for. He’s most influential for seeing a movement and doing it. I love Biggie, but Big L or Lord Finesse on that type of a movement, I think would have been big as well. Biggie had the longevity because as you can see after he made all those lyrics, I don’t know if Big L or Lord Finesse had that in them. But Puff gave Big the song mentality. Biggie was just writing 60 bar verses and Puff was writing in the hooks. I’m not saying just, its two people met up at the right time and it worked. The biggest part about success is you could be Funk Flex 2006, I could take 15 different roads to be more successful – I better pick the right one. All those roads won’t make me successful until I’m fucking 60 years old. That’s the key. Jay-Z, Puffy, Russell, they all have that key. Russell could be the biggest risk taker…Phat Farm, I could do Def Jam Comedy, I could still be the guy at the label. Russell had a rap record and he even bust a verse. He said, ‘What’s up, my name’s Russell Rush/ And I came to play the cold rock stuff.’ Jazzy Jay did the beat. He could have went either fucking way. Entrepreneur, that’s the hardest thing to do.
Don’t you think that some people are entrepreneurs and some just aren’t built for it?
You know why it doesn’t work? They hold onto wanting to be famous for too long. They want to be in the limelight. Erick Sermon, very good business man. He had Redman, Das EFX, the label deals, production but he wanted to be famous too long. Dr Jeckyll did it early, stop rapping, start Uptown Records sign Christopher Williams, Heavy D. The blueprint was always there. Granted some people don’t want to do that but what the fuck else are you going to do? You can’t write music, lines, hooks, R&B niggas. People don’t want Dru Hill anymore, they want Ne-Yo. Ne-Yo is young, living the lifestyle. Nokio is talented, he’s gets it. The Thong Song ruined Sisqo. Once you have a doll coming out, that’s it. A company called me about a doll, forget it.
Snoop had a doll.
He better be careful. He should be careful. He doesn’t talk about it though. People ought to find out what’s good for them, because kids can see when you’re not into something. I don’t think Puff wasn’t into acting in a play. I don’t think he was into it. I think he thought that’s what he should do. That’s cool though, the marathon was great. Jay-Z man. I’ll tell you who is a really good entrepreneur, it’s Cam’Ron. He’s got tapes, clothes, videos, the movement.
Do you still like to mix?
Only on the radio. 10 o clock is my mixing. Some artists come into the business with the entrepreneur way of thinking and that hurts the music. I’m a very big 50 Cent fan but I think 50 missed some of the enjoying things of…I think he likes to tour but he likes money. He likes clothing but I think he likes money. Yo, Mos Def and Talib Kweli man, they just want to tear the bitch down. They make money too but I think tearing it down is more important than the money. 50 and Mos Def both tear shit down but I can tell the difference with what’s on their minds and maybe what I think doesn’t matter. I think 50 entrepreneur mentally really fast and missed going into a nightclub and tearing it down. Not because one of your rappers was performing that night or not because you passed by and it was packed. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with that.
Are you still into the music?
Not like ten years ago.
Is it just getting older?
I think there’s only two movements right now, G Unit and Dip Set.
What about the South?
I’m talking about my home. I need more movements than that to get excited. I think the South is a great movement but its not our movement. It would be if we saw the rappers in the clubs. Rappers is getting lazy. They don’t want to freestyle on the radio, they don’t want to freestyle on the tapes. It’s lazy man, lazy. G Unit is going to be remembered though for their artist driven mix tapes. They were so hood man, so ghetto. There were times where I thought they were on a corner in Queens with a mic. I think Dip Set has that movement as well but you always get this lull. There was Rakim and Kane putting out those bad albums for a minute and then the new shit. When G Unit was coming through, I was like It’s going to happen again. It was different than Puff’s movement because I think Puff spawned Roc-A-Fella. Puff spawned Death Row, that 2Pac movement. They weren’t flash, they became flash. G Unit spawned things but people look at the top too much. You can be number 2,3,4,5,6,7, or 8 and it’s okay. Rappers want to be on the top. They are only preparing for the number 1 spot. Get in and grind and be like #10 for a time.
What do you think about Kanye West? Is he too pop to be considered a movement?
I’m glad you brought Kanye up because I misjudged him in the beginning. I said some mean things about him on the radio. I said that he was gassed and cocky. I saw him doing an interview in Canada and they bleeped the girl ‘white girl’ and his whole thing was like, ‘Why did you take the word out.’ I thought that he had a point. For Canada, that was definitely off the wall what he said. I saw him on something on BET, where he was like, ‘I’m confident with what I do.’ I’ve never had him on my show.
We’ve never gotten along. I’ve reached out though, because I want him on the show. He was like, ‘I consider myself the Jay-Z, the DMX’s’ and I was like, ‘Fucking what? You consider yourself what? How about I don’t consider you that?’ Who am I to judge? I’m just Flex. I thought his cockiness stemmed from money and talent but I think it really stemmed from frustration about not getting his chance. I think he’s talented. I think he’s teetering on the fence of wanting to keep it real, but he wants to buy jewelry and spend money. I think he’s fighting it.
I can’t remember the last great rapper to come out. Kanye?
Kanye. His lyrics. I think we’ve missed a few great ones. I think we missed Mos Def. I think we missed a few that we let pass because they came during the glitter and glam and they didn’t get their just due. Ms. Fat Booty is tough. Talib not as much. Fugees was that. They just happened to sell 12 million. They were doing underground shit and it just caught on.
Let me put this scene out for you. August 1999. I’m in a car going to a club at like 1 AM and I hear you play Simon Says. I bugged the fuck out because I didn’t think you would ever play that record.
Busta came to my office and played me that record. He was like, ‘I have nothing to do with it, I don’t know where that’s coming out.’ I was a huge Organized Konfusion fan too so. People get me with that, if you’re retro and struggling trying to do it again and you have a hot record, I’m in your corner all day. I love that record.
It was so weird because I thought Flex is…
A commercial nigga (Laughs)
That Rawkus movement was something that should’ve got off the ground.
Jaret is going to come back. They are going to look at what mistakes they made. He’s very good at analyzing the moment. I think he’s going to be like Russell. Russell really wanted Run DMC at his label and he wanted them at Def Jam. That story in Krush Groove was true. Def Jam wasn’t even around yet. Rawkus was a good movement too because it was very 90’s hip hop. No money, no glitter, let’s go. Mos Def was on Geffen. Mos Def and Talib weren’t big enough to do Black Star. They should’ve gotten big first. Q-Tip was supposed to be successful. A Tribe Called Quest not making records is…His new album was supposed to be called Live At the Renaissance? That’s some real hip hop. I did a tour with them and just played 90s hip hop. I played for like an hour. I still think Q-Tip should have done Tribe. I don’t think Q-Tip could be successful if Tribe isn’t successful. It was nothing beating you in the head too long. I liked “Breathe and Stop.” I think the image Q-Tip took on was, ‘I’m not with that old shit no more.’ I’m growing to like Black Eyed Peas. That record with Talib and Q-Tip is a good record.
I heard that you were scared of flying?
Yeah, but it was hurting my marketing. The buses cost money and I have to keep it moving. KRS-One hasn’t flown since the early 90’s. KRS does the boat to go overseas. I talk plane stories with everyone. I was coming from Toronto and the light dimmed black and it felt the air was swollen and the plane was fighting. I can’t get on another Toronto flight. I can’t get another Canada flight. I have trouble just during take off. I know once I’m stabilized, the plane is under control. You should fly Continental. They have new planes. They don’t buy used. They keep mad workers. If I ever have to fly something else, I would fly Northwest. I fly out of Jersey. I’m a nut with it. I’ve gotten off planes before. I was supposed to DJ a charity benefit for Alonzo Mourning and I couldn’t explain it to him. What bothers you?
I’m very claustrophobic. I don’t like riding in cars even. Then there is the height thing. Then there is the fact that I have no control.
My stomach bothers me. I have to do first flight out and then first flight back in. Or I have to come in at seven and leave at five. I don’t like night flying.
I like night flying better.
I have to fly though because my best ideas come while flying because I’m never in one place for so long with a pen and paper. You ever see those people on the plane that sleep from take off to landing?
I fucking hate them.
I hate turbulence. Overseas, b, accidents happen once a month. They don’t tell us about this shit.
Sum up real quick what companies you have.
Baurtwell is my customization company. That is really my main business, which really does everything. I have a designing and endorsement deal with Ford, an endorsement and marketing deal with Castro Syntec, I have an endorsement deal with Turtle Wax, I have an endorsement deal with JL Audio, I have a toy deal with Hot Wheels, I’m sponsored by a tire company, Creal (???), so its on my cars. I’m on ESPN. Def Jam Mobile, I have a mobile deal with them. I have a deal with Yahoo, a content deal, they air my old episodes.
What about the marketing companies you have?
The marketing companies are really just doing the products I’m endorsed to. Franchise Automotive Marketing.
What about Big Dog Record Pool?
Eh, once vinyl lost it’s edge, we’re down to twenty members. I gave it to my friend and he’s running it the best he can.
Dope on Plastics?
That was really just a company that was when I did my albums so you could see the little logo. It still exists when I do albums. I also have Joy George, which is my film company that all my TV shows go through.
I’m just on Hot 97. I’m local.
Any new albums?
DVD’s now. Koch. I have a deal with Koch for Car Show DVD’s. I just did a deal with Sony for a DVD that will be graffiti, sneakers and automotive stuff.
Did you bug out the first time you went gold?
The first one didn’t go gold until later. The second one went gold first because we didn’t put a clean version out of it. I didn’t know how big it was when it was happening. My first album sold 20,000 copies the first week and people from BMG were calling me congratulating me. I didn’t know the album came out that day because I was so into the DJing. My manager at the time, Jessica Rosenblum was more into the album thing and then the second week I did another 20. I didn’t know anything about that end of the business so I wasn’t that interested. My second album did 60,000 the first week and Russell Simmons sent my flowers. “Ill Bomb” was an important record. Me and LL needed to be in the streets. Doing that record, he was like, ‘You better be right on this.’ We kind of understood that we had to push each other. He had the second verse before the first and I was like, This is hard. It took a while for people to take that record seriously but it was a turning point of getting back to the streets. The Tunnel was all new songs. The third, I was going to make it the last. I was kind of cocky, thinking I was king of the hill. That fourth one did 850,000. I think that sold the most. I’m about 3000 short of a gold DVD now. To do that with a DVD…Showing versatility. The albums, some DJ’s take it for granted. Magic Mike had like four, five gold albums. Clue had one platinum, one gold. He loves making records. He loves being in the studio.
Let’s revisit that sports analogy you were telling me in the car.
I don’t like certain teams, but I like certain athletes. I like Shaq, but not just for his play. I like him for all the things he’s done with his career. I like LeBron, not so much for his play. If I could say, the most impressive move about LeBron was firing his agent and going with not just a friend, but a friend he put through school. That’s who’s handling his career now. I think that was the best way for him to take control of his destiny. I like Allen Iverson but I like for not being too much of a stickler with the whole dress code thing. People expected him to be rebellious but he shocked everybody by being smooth and I thank he needed an excuse to refine his career anyway so why not say that the NBA made me do it instead of appearing soft by changing up his flow. I wish they would show that footage of him shaking and baking Jordan more. I like the Bus. He’s in TV now. He’s not that big of a talker though. Who has him now? ABC? I think Madden is great at marketing. He knew when to give up coaching. Some people don’t know how to make that move. Al Michaels is like a tag a long guy. The video games are one thing, but he wouldn’t have had that if he wasn’t so good at marketing. The guy who used to run the Box is now at MTV2 I think. Someone bought it, I think it was another video network and they buried it…
[Somehow, The Source magazine comes up]
I don’t think there is room for a tabloid in hip hop. This isn’t rock n’ roll. They never really attacked me but they were attacking people I knew who couldn’t defend themselves like Angie. I just took it upon myself. They were like, ‘We weren’t talking about.’ But I couldn’t stand by because [Ray and Dave] were attacking people around me. I remember Dave Mays was the only with a magazine saying Hip hop matters. He was young, he was white and he knew the music. That was more important than me holding up. This is a guy coming from Harvard saying hip hop matters. People have forgotten this and were extra hard on him, me included. I don’t know what it’s like to have something for twenty one years and then someone tells you it’s not yours anymore. You’re going to have withdrawals. You are going to wake up in the middle of the night. It’s not like being fired from a radio station. One day, Hot 97 is going to fire me or we’re going to part ways; that’s inevitable. If you own something it’s different. I wouldn’t think that someone would come to my house and tell me I don’t own it anymore.
Stuff they were talking about though, the payola, you’ve been accused of it…
Always. Every day. There are a lot of rappers who…I’ve gone through different series with certain artists. Like when I told you I was making my transition from EPMD to Naughty to Black Moon to the Bad Boy shift. But before the Bad Boy shift, it was really Wu-Tang. Wu-Tang didn’t get to their full height before Bad Boy. They got snuffed a little and cut short because the glitter came, which is Puff. After Puff, of course is Jay-Z. I am the only constant thing, there’s not been one radio DJ on for every step of this. The first time I’ve ever mixed on the radio was 1988 for KISS FM. I have not left the radio since, maybe for two or three months in between changing station. Imagine, 1988-2006. Have you ever done an article where an artist says that was a bad album I made?
They have an excuse for everything.
So then you go, ‘Flex used to drop bombs on my shit. Now he’s all about 50. 50’s paying him.’ I play too many nightclubs to take money for records. In a nightclub, you can’t bribe a guy to dance on the dance floor. I can’t have a record that I play on the radio that I won’t play in the clubs. Yeah, maybe I picked a few records that I put the bomb on that didn’t turn out to be a national hit. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and the one thing that I learned is that if you DJ clubs you don’t have to take money. Red Alert was real specific about that with me. He never said payola, but he said, ‘If you earn your money, you’ll never have to do anything you would be ashamed of.’ I knew what he meant, and I’m sure he’s said that to a lot of people. I’ve always made between $2,000-$10,000 in my career in clubs. I can’t speak for all DJ’s because this didn’t come out of thin air. It’s been proven that there are people that take money and maybe still doing it now.
Do you think payola still exists?
I think there are people that still do it. There are like 500,000 DJ’s in the United States, so someone is doing it. When you get on the radio, there is a point where you are more popular then the money you earn. There was a long period of time when I was living in a basement apartment paying $500 a month. I had a BMW parked outside because I needed it for the image. It took me a long time to save and get it. I had no money saved in the bank and that made me depressed for a little while. But everyone’s period is longer. Maybe mine was for six months; maybe another kid’s is for six years. And I didn’t get high or smoke; imagine a guy who gets high has to figure out how to get to the next place in life. Then you have kids with independent labels offering you money. Some people do give into the temptation. But the one thing that I always saw was that I saw DJ firsthand taking money. When I was next to him, I thought it was cool that he had that attitude like, ‘You got to give me something, B. Nothing’s for free.’ When he was off the radio, the same people that I thought were scared of him or respected him were like, ‘Your man’s finished.’ ‘But I saw you go to dinner with him.’ They didn’t care. They wanted me to tell him that he’s finished. My ego’s too big for that. So my thing was always, I’m going to learn to do other things. I’m going to put out albums. I’m going to do everything I need to do to earn money. When I first got on the radio, I was making $200 a show. 1994-95, you would think I was set for life, outside looking in. This was at Hot 97. But the one thing, I learned was if you do the clubs…I can easily speak for me and I teach my guys that. It’s a combination of yes, there are people who have taken money if the past and its people accusing because no rapper wants to say he had a bad single or a bad album. I told you, I thought I was lazy on the 3rd album. That reality helps you understand yourself as a whole. How come artists who only have one album out never accused me of payola? How come artists on their second album never accuse me of payola? When they get to that third or fourth album, so what the other two albums, I was playing because I was in the same place you were? That makes you sleep good at night to not question yourself. I know because I’ve reinvented myself a few times. I know when a rapper isn’t reinventing himself. I can see it in you. I see it in your career. If I tell you, ‘It’s aight.’ It’s either, ‘You’re hating,’ or ‘It’s because of 50.’ Whatever new rapper is out, I was supposed to take money from 50, Puffy and Jay-Z. Those dudes don’t need money on top of their records. There’s never an independent kid who has never gotten spins say, ‘Flex took my money and played my record.’ Why has there not been one person to say that.
How about KRS-One?
KRS-One comes to me and has this Temple of Hip Hop, which is supposed to also launch his temple of hip hop. I do marketing. I’ve done marketing for Snoop, Mariah, Jennifer Lopez’s perfume, Allen Iverson’s Reebok sneakers. People think that my marketing has to do with people albums. This stuff that I market, I don’t have to play and nobody asked me to play. I market in 40 markets. I’m only on the radio in one market. If you pay me to do a project, who is playing it in the other nine markets. There’s LA, Detroit, DC, Virginia. KRS’s claim to fame is that he said, ‘I paid Flex forty thousand dollars and he never played my record.’ I never said I was going to play your record. You’re putting out a soundtrack that you want me to promote. You wanted me to put posters up and wrap up my van, and that’s what I did. It had nothing to do with playing records. KRS called and was like, ‘Hey can you play that record.’ I was like, ‘Nah, Kris, I don’t really like that record.’ I would assume he would want me to be honest. But it’s also KRS-One so what would KRS-One say if I didn’t take the project. ‘He takes everyone else’s projects but not mine. He’s into these younger niggas and doesn’t respect where I come from.’ KRS has never once before he said that about me. He’s never called me about it, talked to me about it or said anything about. So I was like, ‘You’re absolutely right. You paid me to do something and the record didn’t play because I wasn’t supposed to play your record. That’s not what you asked me to do. You asked me to promote your soundtrack. You asked me to put up posters. You asked me to do something nationally. It would be different if I only worked in New York. My company, which I’m proud of, I can put posters up in DC, Virginia, Baltimore and that’s a hard thing to do. I had to do it ten times better than other people because people were looking at me not to do it right. Same thing with customizing a car. If I didn’t customize a car right, people would be like, ‘Oh he thinks just because he’s Flex, he can do anything.’ Same thing with the marketing company. At the end of the day, people want to know if their product is being promoted. He’s the only one who has said this.
But don’t you see why the marketing company can be seen as a conflict of interests?
I can see it, and I think that there are people that have done it wrong in the past and that’s where it comes from. People who know me or know what I’m about know that that’s not my thing. I’m not just a DJ who plays records, I’m an opinionated DJ. I’m a guy who goes on the radio and says that something is trash or hot. You lose being so opinionated if you are taking money. Then your opinion don’t matter. I’m very opinionated. I like to say if I like or I don’t like something and there is only way to keep doing that, to fly straight. I do think that there are people who misjudge those things. It’s easy to wonder, Why is Flex playing a certain record. But you can say that about anything. What if my cousin was a rapper and he was successful, then it would be, Because he’s a family member, that’s why he plays the record. You can go a lot of different ways. Because a guy gives me $40,000 to customize his car, I’m going to play his record a lot? I’m into cars that has nothing to do with his record. I’m doing a car for LL, and I’m playing one of his records.
How about the record pool? That would answer how you play records in other markets, while you are only DJing in New York.
I don’t think so. The record pool doesn’t report to a major base. There are people who will say, ‘I have records in the pool.’ But there are a lot of pools. There isn’t a master list that people follow. I distribute it to DJ, the DJ’s give their feedback and, a lot of companies ask me for their sheets. So you see what a DJ gives back. Record pool DJ’s, he wants the records, he pays for it. Sometimes a feedback sheet isn’t on his mind and he really doesn’t care. The amount of feedback sheets you got to get to make someone play a record, the radio is more of a thing to look at than a record pool.
Have people every offered you money to play records?
Yeah, people are always offering me money to play records. People have offered me cars. The new thing is, since people know I’m into cars, they’ll offer me an old Camaro. I think with anything, some people do it out of naïve, without really knowing. Some people start their conversation, ‘You think maybe I can possibly,’ or ‘What does it cost? I’ve been around the block. I know what it is.’ Sometimes, that offends me because then you’re saying that the bomb or me in the club means nothing. My line is always, ‘As a man do you feel funny that you have to speak for your music and start with paying me? Is there something you feel your music is lacking?’ And that usually gets us on the equal playing ground. ‘Oh, I heard that you were,’ That relationship usually doesn’t go any further. By offering me money, you’re insulting the bomb and my skills so now I’m going to question your skills. If your skills aren’t up to par, why do you feel like you have to pay me? People offer me watches. Some people…Payola is just the extreme. A lot of people want to get you on the phone. To some people, getting an answer about their record is just as important as you playing it.
Okay. Here’s a record, and it could be a record promotions guys, We’re thinking about making this a single. What do you think? What do your pit bulls think? What do you think people across the country will think? If you have a record, before you shoot a $500,000 video, before you put a million into marketing, you go, Let me ask Flex or another key DJ’s what this is. Some people like to get you a watch, so when you call them, you give them this answer. What you become then is their A&R. They will then go to their boss and not say they got their answer from me, but be like, ‘Let’s not go with this. Let’s go with this record.’ There has never been a record executive who has taken me out to dinner or taken me out or taken me out to dinner.
Are most of the people that offer you money, independent labels?
Out of state, out of town. If I’m in Florida or Memphis, I’m like a gold mine to them. If this guy goes back to where all the big record companies are and he plays my record, I could get a deal. I’ve played people’s records I don’t like. There are people who I don’t get along with or at one time didn’t and now we’ve fixed it since then. I didn’t get along with Snoop, but when ‘B Please,’ came out I didn’t front. Me, Ice Cube and Mack 10 had a huge beef. They said in Rap Pages, I guess because I was commenting on ‘Bow Down’ I was like, Aint nobody bowing down to that. We created this. It was just my opinion. Mack 10 was talking tough but I DJed Mack 10’s wedding. We spoke and had real talk. There have been times when me and Jay-Z had issues. 2Pac never liked me. I think he felt that I took Biggie’s side. I’m only hurting myself if I’m not playing a hot record.
Have you ever taken money and played a record in return?
There is no one who can come forward that said they paid me for a record.
What do you think about Elliot Spitzer’s inquiries?
People try to say governor or…He’s still looking at something that for years…There was a radio DJ in the 50’s and I always forget his name. He was convicted in court. Dick Clark took his style from him. Honestly, he was probably a good dude that thought there were made people before him that did it that this is what you’re supposed to do. They put him in the Rock n roll hall of fame. He lost everything and it wasn’t over payola it was because he had a black guy and white girl dancing on his show. They were just happy to be enjoying this thing called rock and roll. Elliot Spitzer really does have reason to look at this. He’s not creating this out of thin air. There are practices going on that shouldn’t be going on. I know radio people will get mad at me, but I’m not against what he’s doing. He’s sniffing out situations that he feels are illegal and there are some illegal practices going on in entertainment. It’s a stepping stone for him. A police captain isn’t going on a major sting because he wants to clean up the block, he wants to move up. In the process of a guy moving up, he’s cleaning something up. It’s a win both ways. I don’t think he’s doing the wrong thing, I think he’ doing the right thing. It’s unfortunate that I’ve read some of the articles and some of the quotes and some of these people getting fired that are thirty years old and when they came up as interns they thought, This is something I’m supposed to do. They are looking at if the five guys before me didn’t get hit, why am I getting hit. You’re going to take the heat, because you are involved in it.
How did you feel that you and Enuff were named in the inquiry?
I was never named in the inquiry; the Source magazine said my name because I’m a team player. To defend myself, I would have to dump my guy under the bus. ‘Nah, I didn’t get named, but he did.’ So they knew what type of guy I am, so we’re going to print it and he’s not going to run around and say no. My name has never come up in any inquiry.
But Enuff’s has?
Enuff’s name has, for a car service, which he did take. If somebody sends you a car service and you’re DJing a Sony party and they send you a car service then it gets back as, ‘Oh, this was him taking it for this or that.’ That’s more knowing who you are dealing with and know why they are sending you something. I’m a little bit more fortunate. I’m into cars and have ten of them lying around so maybe I can get to the party quicker than Enuff can. Yes, I think Spitzer was right to name him because he saw something he felt he needed to name. He never doesn’t give anyone an opportunity to defend it. He’s not convicting anyone. He’s putting the email out there. As a man, if you did something wrong and you can’t defend but if you can, Enuff is one of the guys who could.
Was it a lapse in judgment that he did take it?
I don’t think Enuff has been enough situations to figure out the dirt that labels do. A guy at the label is going, this guy has to get to the party on time, I want him to feel good, ok I’ll send it. He goes to his boss and goes, I need a car service for DJ Enuff, he plays all our records he takes care of us.’ Enuff didn’t know that that email was sent, nobody sees that email. That is where you have to be, Where is this car coming from. I would have caught onto that but I’ve been around the block. I’ve been around several blocks. Enuff’s been on the radio for like what, four years. I would have been caught four years in with that because I wouldn’t have been able to decipher that. Maybe he should have been more cautious since Spitzer was on the prowl.
On September 24, 2002, there was an article in the Daily News that said the NYPD was not going to investigate you for payola. After that, did you think the issue was dead?
Nah, because I thought that was a smoke screen. What could the NYPD investigate to find out what’s going on? I thought it was more to put it out there to look for him, but we’re going to keep it moving. How do you know I’m clean? You don’t know I’m clean. I don’t doubt though that the police department and other people have tried to offer me money to play records, to see if I take it. I always believed that.
How did you feel when Michael Saunders was fired from Power?
I’m going to be so honest because you are giving me an avenue to tear him apart but if I got to be real honest. I think he did what the Clear Channel machine wanted him to do. There’s something that’s not being said about radio stations, its never been printed and no one goes into it. The check don’t get written to the program director. The checks get written to the corporations that own the radio station. Even with the guys who were fired recently, they never print that part. There is no personal gain; the money does not go to the program directors. Why would a guy…what are you hustling for? Because someone is telling you to hustle. A TV set? That’s not what happened to Michael Saunders. Michael Saunders is like, telling people, spend with Clear Channel. He’s not getting that You could only be doing that if the guy before you was doing that. There used to be conventions where people got lap dances from girls in their room for the night in exchange for playing the record, it’s never said. You have to read into that and decipher that. I didn’t just go to a convention and dream this up, this has been happening because I heard DJ’s before me talk about this. Even when I started in 88, this is nothing compared to what was going on in the 60’s and 70’s. This is a bad habit passed down. There are going to be people saying, its easy for Flex to talk about because he makes money doing other things. I always knew I would have to make money doing other things. If I did not amok money doing other things, I would have to take payola. I’d be 38 years old, a radio DJ making less than $40,000, how the hell would I be living? Going back to Michael Saunders, I’ll tell you what people don’t realize about the radio business. I learned early on, that if you become important to an 18-34 demographic, which is the most sought after demographic for just about every company, I can always be on the radio. I always knew that I wouldn’t have to do that. I think Michael Saunders just didn’t think out his career.
Do you think it’s good for New York City to have two hip hop stations?
I think it’s good. I think it separates the men from the boys. It separates who’s going to compete and who’s not. I thrive on competition. I think it’s great. #1 and #2 doesn’t really matter in a sense. Who’s voice means the voice matters most? Corporately we get caught up in that, but that’s really what it is. Some personalities and DJ’s matter and some don’t. Some don’t want to matter, some want to fly under the radio. I knew after seeing Howard that I want to fly above the radar. It’s a harder fall when you do fall but when you’re riding up there, it’s a good feeling. If you feel you’re going to get shit on if you lose, you work harder.
How did you feel when the new ratings came that said Cherry Martinez was beating you?
Hell no. That’s what she’s saying. She’s been saying that for two years. She has never beaten me in the book once. She is a good person. I remember when she was a PD. I burned her once. I was supposed to do something for her radio station once and I didn’t do it. She was in Boston. I think I’ve apologized since.
I went to Jammin, a competitor. The program director was a guy that I met and I liked the way he was getting down. I started it, being mean to her. But I was being mean, in a way where I wanted to compete. I was looking at the book, saying this person’s wack, they’re wack and she was one of the people I said was wack. But I always say people are wack. I think, if you want it, come get it. Let’s not teeter around. Let’s decide who’s going to be king of the hill. Let’s not question it. She thinks that if she says that, then maybe people will believe it. If I attack that, then I will be bringing attention to her. Me and Ed Lover do the same thing. Me and Ed go fierce sometime but me and him are cool.
The first time the station’s war of words became public was when Nas went on the air dissing you after Summer Jam.
Nas was upset with me. He was upset with everybody. That’s another situation where he started this conversation about Hot 97 and Angie and I heard about it when I was still at Summer Jam. So I said something about him at the end of the night.
What did you say?
Oh he’s back stage and doesn’t want to come out. He was going at my team. Then he started going in on me. Fuck Cam. Fuck Nore. Fuck Flex. Don’t let Flex’s album be bigger than your album. I had a situation with Steph.
Did that come from Nas saying that on her show, or was there tension before then?
I love Steph. I can say it now. I never touched Steph. I pushed Steph to get out of my way, but I would never touch Steph. I was Steph’s biggest fan, I went to DC heard her on the radio and told my boss about it. I don’t think Steph was being malicious. I think she was in the moment and didn’t care how it would come through. Coming by the station and…I came out my job. I would never hit or punch a girl, that’s not my thing. We’ve made up since. She knows how I felt. I know she felt. I think she knew I understood the whole radio end of it. I was more like, ‘Why are you here.’
Why was she there?
I never found out. Oh, I think her gym was down the block, which was an unfortunate situation. She took it to a whole nother level. I don’t want to say the wrong thing but karma is something. I believe is karma. I can understand if you want to make a name off me, but it doesn’t happen for a reason. Have you heard her on the radio since? I think she felt like it was worth. I’m ruining this relationship with Flex if it does for me what I think it’s going to do for me. That made me more upset. That was what, 2002, and the kid is still here.
Did you call her those names? Broke ass bitch, ungrateful bitch, slut, whore, stupid fucking whore, dumb bitch.
I didn’t call her that. That’s not me. Why would I call her those things? I did call her ungrateful. I did call her that. She got fired from Hot 97 because she was late. We’re all late. You catch the boss in a bad move, the boss it going to be a problem. She wasn’t later than other people. Two days back to back she was late. The next day, the boss happened to see it and he fired her. She was written up for it before, everyone was written up. She took it as it was everybody’s fault. Hot 97 is like…I was there when it was nothing. I was there at the right place and right time. But the people who got there afterwards, got there when it was a well oiled machine and it could really help your career. She had an opportunity to be at a good machine and she blamed everybody else when she got fired. I really liked her. And it hurt my feelings. People were like, You liked her. You thought she was all that. She said some nasty things about Angie about Tracy. I never thought she would do those things. I think she did it because she felt that’s what she needed to do to be successful in radio.
So you never called her those names?
I never called her those names. I said she was ungrateful. I did throw money at her though. Money, I threw.
Did you choke her?
Didn’t choke her.
Did you punch her?
Never would. Didn’t do that.
All you did was throw money at her? And you plead guilty on harassment just on that?
Because you can take that as harassment. That’s harassment. I walked by the doorway and pushed her.
Was it a violent push?
She’s bigger than me. What if she knocked me out there? What would have niggas said? My career would have been over after that. In all fairness, I don’t think she told those things. I think it was the people that were with her at the precinct, whether they were there or not.
A little bit. She never said that to me but I think I know her good enough. Steph’s not a liar. Steph wants to compete. She would never say that about herself. She would never play that damsel in distress.
How much money did you throw at her?
A couple of grand.
A couple of grand?
Were you having a bad day when it happened?
Nah. It was more words like; I walked past her and was like, ‘Why don’t you just bounce? Why don’t you just get out of here? Nobody wants you down here?’ Her response was real nasty and negative.
What did she say?
Curses, it was like whatever. She actually went into stance. I didn’t move because I knew what it was after that. I was like, (makes gesture that he’s pushing her). She was like, ‘I’m glad you did that because of my lawyer, my this, my that.’ I was like, ‘Why don’t we just settle the case now since that’s what you’re about.’ And I threw money at her. I was going for the theatrics. I was going for the movie thing. You go through things when you’re upset. I think the thing that really made me angry and throw money at her was her response.
What was it?
It was just loud and obnoxious. Her whole attitude. That part I haven’t thought about that much.
What was the response from people afterwards? Weren’t people saying that you hate women? It was alleged that you said all those things about her.
I would say it was half and half. I tell you something that disturbed me. The amount of guys that were thinking that I did do something like that and think it was cool, I was surprised by that. I understand why it was such a big deal afterwards because there are a lot of men out here doing that. It would have been different if I had a history of something. The only thing that got me through that was I was a guy who hasn’t been getting into those type of situations. Usually, the people who do that are return offenders. That was my first and only incident.
Around that time though, that child support case was made public.
There was a lot of that. I don’t really want to talk about that.
The end result was 35 hours of community service?
Did you do it?
Did your lawyers tell you to plead guilty to harassment?
Ehh, I think I did deserve that harassment charge. I really do. Harassment could be getting into a strong argument so I would look silly trying to say that that didn’t happen.
Another thing in the complaint that was interesting was that it was suggested that Hot 97 higher ups told DJs to be antagonistic to Power 105.1 on and off the air?
Nah, I think that was more them. That was their whole claim to fame. They were really trying to put across, ‘They’re real, we’re not.’ I don’t think that we gave off that energy and I was the only one was vocal. I like to compete the most, and they like to compete to. Nas going down there and voicing his opinion wasn’t the worse thing. If that’s the way he felt, we hear you. Nas has been on my show since.
How did you guys reconcile?
I understood where he was coming from.
Even when he said people should snatch your chain?
I got to remember when I was being theatrical, so I got to understand when other people are being theatrical. He knew I would not be somewhere where people could take my chain. I’m always with people. I’m in a club, if I’m doing an event, I have security. He wanted to be real street. It was more, I understand what you did, let’s keep it moving.
Does Hot 97 get a bad rap?
I don’t think people are picking on it. No matter what radio station that happened at, it would be written about. I think if two rock n roll people had a fight; it would be just as big. If Britney Spears got into a fight with Jessica Simpson outside of Z 100 it would be just as big. Gun play or not. The music is kind of violent. With the music being violent, sometimes when people are being theatrical on a record…I don’t think Game or 50 didn’t want to hurt anybody. The people that were hurt were loose members of the crew. Those two guys, if it happened in the Bronx, no one would care. I don’t think so. I think its when you’re the only hip hop station doing artists, you’re bound to have something happen. We’ve been on since 92 and there are like four, five situations.
People accused the station of trying to play up the beefs. What was your policy towards dis records?
I don’t play the dis records. I think the last one was, I played “Piggy Bank” once and I took everyone’s opinion. I spoke to Jadakiss for a quote, Ja for a quote and Joe for a quote. I didn’t play the Jay-Z/Cam beef and some artists might get mad at me if I don’t. I just feel like I don’t need to. I don’t disrespect the jocks for playing them but if I was on the radio for only three, four years I probably would play them. I feel like I’m the biggest DJ that exists, I’m not going to play them. I don’t need to pay them to sustain. I feel like there’s a difference if a young DJ plays it and I play it. I kind of want to keep that responsibility for a minute. Some of those records have been real mean.
What do you think is the biggest positive of your time at Hot 97?
I think the station and hip hop movements have produced a lot of good things. An artist like Jay-Z coming along and Hot 97 playing it when he wasn’t on a big label was a good thing. That was good for the music. I think MTV News spreads beefs a lot. When I say spreads it, I don’t think they do if for rating, they are a popular place where kids go and report it as it is but they had the Cam video, which I think incites things. Rappers do it to themselves but I don’t think they care.
Do you the new jocks at the station look at you for advice?
I think I’m grown up enough now to know that sometimes I don’t have the warmest personality and I’m not the friendliest person sometimes. I’ve softened up as I’ve gotten older. I think that…I told Enuff recently…I could never really separate competition from friendship; to me it was never, I couldn’t be someone’s friend and compete against them. Michael Jordan could compete against someone and then take them out for dinner. Whether the person liked me or disliked me, I had to put it in my brain that there’s competition in the art of war. Even people that I’ve worked with that are on my team. Only in the last year or two I’ve been able to get past that. Maybe because there is no competition, there is competition where people are against me in the radio but I don’t think anyone has my energy. I don’t think anybody can compete with me in a day of who’s going to work harder or stronger, air personality wise.
Are you talking about Enuff? There were rumors that you guys had a feud.
It was kind of my fault. Enuff replaced Red Alert. I think I had a certain love for Red Alert that I wouldn’t have gotten along with whoever replaced him at Hot 97. It was easier for me to blame Enuff than to see maybe it was time for Red to be on at a different time slot. I told him recently. It was easier to blame Enuff than to blame Red Alert.
You guys have talked about this?
I brought it up to talk to him about it. I think he had an inking that that was happening. I wasn’t very warm to him and never embraced him. What my standard of what DJing and business should be vs. everyone’s standards is different and who am I to judge.
Do people think that you pay too much attention to the business and not enough to the music?
Yeah, I think sometimes the business end of it is always on my mind. I will listen to a demo. It’s hard to define what a demo is. Jay-Z, Puff, Cam’Ron, had to have a demo at some time. They all had to shop a song. I do listen. If an unknown artist gives me a CD, I do have a tendency to not really listen to it in comparison to a Cam or someone in his camp. In my mind, I’m like ‘This is Cam’s guy and he’s probably talented and they could be successful.’ It’s almost like unassuming the judgment of the major artist and letting them do the A&R work.
You still love spinning though, right?
I love playing the clubs. Now, I kind of play X Bar, last winter I was at two clubs that have closed since. I do guest spots. I think now that my favorite roller rink is closed, I might start on Sunday night again. When I was young in the 80’s the Skate Key was where I saw mixing for the first time close up and saw the power of records. People used to break dance o the side and there was a lot of hip hop elements.
How did you get along with Peter Gatien?
He was cool. He was always a hard worker, had a lot of clubs. I think a lot of people thought I was part owner of the Tunnel. I was really a worker. I want to tell this story about the Tunnel. A hip hop club always lasts for only a couple for months or a year. The police aren’t the only ones who will shut you down. Sometimes you will make too much money and the owner starts to feel funny if it gets too busy. Clubs struggling, promoters not making money, owners making a little money from the bar. Then you have those weeks where owners are making a lot of bar money, promoters are making good money. You can only sell so many drinks in a night. Now the promoters making more money because he is putting more people in the club or he is charging more at the door. I always knew…I did a salary cap and I can say again because I’m not a promoter anymore and I’m never going to talk to a club owner again. What I did was I would say, I want this amount of money per week, whether or not you’re crowded or not. On the real big nights, I would make the same amount of money. I knew that if I could find an owner that liked money, he’ll make sure the door stays open. I played there for eight years and that owner never shut that door. I knew that if the door never got shut and that place was always crowded, I would be the biggest DJ in New York. All the owners used to think it was about luring me away with bigger money; it was about keeping the door open.
What’s the most you ever gotten for a gig? DJing.
I got a hundred once. I’ve always been in between the 8 and 10 thousand dollar range. Not in a club that only holds a thousand people though.
Did you ever try to produce records?
Not really. Sometimes my name was mentioned in a couple of remixes. I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t have a good enough feel. I couldn’t get the original song out of my head.
Do you feel like the music has been corrupted? You’ve made most of your money from your business skills and marketing…
Not from spinning those records.
But spinning those records got you there. Does the corruption in the music industry leave a bad taste in your mouth?
It’s been a long time since, I’m trying to pick a rapper or musician, I think Wu-Tang might be one of the last groups that would have made those records for nothing. Even for a while when it became something. RZA always knew his business. I think the guys did it because they loved it. I think as it came into the later years and the show money and later years dwindled, they got more upset that they didn’t do what they needed done in the music business. I think when an artist is making a demo in his neighborhood at 17, he’s thinking about his sneaker deal, his endorsement deal, bringing his crew up and getting them a label situation because of what he’s seeing. That means that a guy isn’t thinking about making the best record.
Every new rapper I interview talks about just rapping to get a label deal.
Disgusting. It’s going to get away from that again. It’s going to get back to we used to do. Every DJ is not meant to make a DJ album. I made a DJ album to go album. I’m honest, my album wasn’t better than In Control by Marley Marl. You got to always go within your zone.
Have you made a lot of mistakes along the way?
I wish I was more aggressive in my career early. I think because of success, I sacrificed some things in my life. I only went to two years of college. It was important to my mom, she still brings it up. My wife graduated college. I was hoping that when I’m 80 years old and I’m rich, I want to go back. I think school was a sacrifice. I think if my mother and father had a different type of relationship, I would be more of a family person. If I didn’t pursue music so strong.
Have you lost out on friendships?
Yeah, I think I’ve lost out on a lot of friendships. The automotive business gave me sanity because meeting people who are into cars…It’s been a long time since I met people who didn’t want anything from me. I think I was in a point of my life where I really needed that. That made me feel better about going to work everyday and being on the radio. If I was still just on the radio after thirteen years doing 7-12, I’d be depressed. I’d probably commit suicide. I mean this is a kiddie job. I’ve come a long way from just making $200 a show and I’m up in the quarter mill section but that’s still thirteen years of my life watching a guy like Puffy really murder it out here. If I didn’t make money in the automotive world or being a business man…Being successful in business makes you have self worth. Imagine people getting up and going to work at seven, getting off at 12 and just talk on the radio.
But I bet that’s all you wanted just twenty years ago?
Yeah but imagine when its not what you want anymore and you can’t stop. You can’t say I want to get up tomorrow and go work for the Burlington Coat Factory.
Do you see yourself stopping soon?
No. I think… (long pause). I’ve never said this. I like the car business better than I like the music business. I like the car show and the toys better than DJing on the radio.
I knew that from the other day. I was going to bring it up if you didn’t.
What, you were going to break me down before we parted?
Yeah. On Thursday, we met up at eleven and we didn’t talk about music until I brought it up. You rather talk about Jason Giambi’s car than the Jay-Z/Cam beef.
I think so. I don’t know. On Sunday’s I mix in my basement a lot. I just recently straightened out my collection. I didn’t take too long but I set up this great system. When I’m down there in the basement, I’m not playing records from the last ten years. I’m playing early 90’s-1995. You ever hear a person say they want to live forever? Over the last couple of years, I realized that I don’t want to live forever because the best part of my life with music has passed me and that day will never come again. The first time I heard “Rapper’s Delight.” The first time I heard mixing on the radio. The first time I went to a jam. The first time I went to a party. The first time I filled in for Chuck Chillout on the radio. The first time I had my own radio show. The first time I came in at 7 and not at 10. The one thing I can say about the car business is, yes I may like that more now but all that I’ve done in the car business hasn’t made me feel better than those moments. If I’m not going to relive it, why do I want to live forever? If those are the best times in memory? I love those things but I with cars, I’ve never met so many good people. I’ve never met anyone good in the music business. When I say good, I mean, anyone who I would want to take home to meet my mom. My whole goal of being popular, I wanted to be the only DJ to get big enough that I don’t need the record business. That’s because I’ve watched it take the life out of a couple people. What do you think happens when a rapper goes gold, then he sells 50,000 units. He loses his house and his cars or he gets his stuff taken because he can’t pay his taxes. There are no fucking nice stories after you can’t afford something. No one comes over to you like, ‘Let me lend you a hundred grand to keep you afloat.’ You see Hot 97, BET, MTV, how many times do you turn on the TV and see what happens to a guy after he lost his record deal because his album didn’t sell. After my fifth gold, I don’t want that to happen. I want to go out on top. With everything I do, I want to go out on top. When I sense that my heart isn’t in something anymore, fuck it I’m not going to do it. The music business is like Uncle Sam, you can never see who’s behind it. And there’s a salary cap. I’m looking at Jay-Z, he’s like I’m only going to make this amount of money doing this. I’m going to own the Nets. I’m going to get a clothing line. I’m going to become the president of a label. I’m going to do all this, just like Puffy. Those guys inspire me. I love Dame Dash and he is one of the smartest guys ever in the business. He lets being in the spotlight hinder his business. 50 sold more records; Jay-Z is still on top. They can both live. Clue sold more records, but I’m still on top. That’s what it is. It’s like anything. It’s all the same. How long are you going to go hold that position? That’s what people don’t get. The music business, I hope…Sometimes I meet a new rapper, and just look at them and think, Are you going to be the one to change this? I thought Fab was going to change it. He never moved from being that mixtape, having fun, talented. He still is but I think he is more influential than he knows. I think young rappers would follow him if he was a great leader.