Kool Moe Dee on Hip-Hop: "Nobody Lived It Like We Did"
The subject of 'Unsung' sets the record straight
Talking to Kool Moe Dee, you get the sense that he'd rather be lauded for his intellect than his MC skills, which is why he combined the two in his music. As the latest to get the "Unsung" treatment, the 49-year-old MC prides himself on being smarter than your average rapper and always, always, always wants to make sure he can tell his side of the story.
He sat down with Loop 21 to discuss what you didn't see in the episode, what he's up to today, and who he thinks is the greatest MC of all time.
Loop 21: What do you think about "Unsung" as a series? Were you excited to be asked to do an episode?
Kool Moe Dee: It's one of my favorite shows because I love getting the perspective of iconic pioneers. However, I know the show very well. I pay attention to how things are produced. I don't have a drama-filled life. No drugs, no rehab, so when I was asked to do the show I thought, 'What are they going to create drama out of?'
Well, they used my old group, the Treacherous Three, to get the drug angle. It bothered me that they didn't talk about me graduating college. You wouldn't talk about 50 Cent's story without talking about him getting shot, you wouldn't talk about Jay-Z without talking hustling, why would you talk about a Kool Moe Dee story and not talk about graduating college while having a flourishing rap career? It was happening simultaneously.
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Loop 21: So you were doing both at the same time; what was that like?
Kool Moe Dee: I was in college from '82-'87. They [members of the Treacherous Three] were frustrated with me not taking shows because I would have a final. Or I have to explain to my professors that I'm going to miss Monday's class because I have a show in North Carolina that Sunday.
Loop 21: In your episode, you said, "You can't predict success and you can't predict the end of success." What would you have told your 25-year-old self about the business? Anything you would have done differently?
Kool Moe Dee: The main thing I would have done would have been to stay much more on top of the tax side of the situation. I was a first-generation money maker. They [in the "Unsung" episode] didn't talk about the lawyer taking the money and the fact that if you're not signing off on your own stuff then you don't know how much is going in or coming out. I would have been more diligent.
Loop 21: Are you releasing new music this year? What other projects are on your plate?
Kool Moe Dee: Yes, my latest single will be released this summer. I'm doing a show called "Behind the Rhyme," [it's] basically an "Inside the Actors Studio" for hip-hop. Until we start telling our own stories, it's rarely going to come out right. When it comes to hip-hop, nobody lived it like we did. They don't know what it's like to live in a drug-infested neighborhood and not get caught up in hustling and still be cool enough to navigate the streets. They don't know what it's like to walk that fine line. We're going to shoot the episodes ourselves. We're not waiting on Hollywood.
I also do a lot of relationship roundtable stuff. We have a collective unhappiness with relationships and that's because people are hooking up for superficial reasons. I tell my female friends, 'Don't date because of your biological clock. If he's not right for you, he won't be right just because you feel it's time.' To the fellas I have to school them: 'You're still focusing on getting some and you're not even focusing on who you're getting some from?'
Loop 21: What's the difference between recording now versus 30 years ago? Do you still have the same kind of hunger? Do you still have the same point to prove?
Kool Moe Dee: No, definitely not trying to prove the same points. It's just like a boxer. As they get older, you fight a different fight. At this stage, I have a lot more wisdom.
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Loop 21: You've talked about your feud with LL Cool J for decades now. What's the real deal behind it?
Kool Moe Dee: They touched on the LL thing [in the "Unsung" episode] but they keep making it so superficial and topical. LL said he was the greatest rapper, but that's not why I got mad. On "Bigger and Deffer" [LL's 1987 album] he had a rhyme, 'I'm only 18 making more than your pops.' Basically he's talking about the hustlers that were the kingpins in the neighborhood. This is during the height of the crack era. My point is if you're going to say you're going to be the best, your content has to be more socially responsible. It wasn't an ego thing.
Loop 21: One great quote from the episode was when someone said, "If there was a Mount Rushmore of hip-hop, Kool Moe Dee would be on it." Assuming you agree, who would be the other three faces you'd put there?
Kool Moe Dee: Well, you'd have to have two Mount Rushmores — one for MCs and the other for DJs. If I had to name three others for the MC Mount Rushmore, it would be Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, and DJ Hollywood. For DJs, it would be Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grand Mixer DXT.
Loop 21: Who are you listening to these days? Who has your ear — hip-hop or otherwise?
Kool Moe Dee: I still love hip-hop. Lil Wayne is probably the hardest working, Enimem is the most skilled, I love Jay-Z's business acumen along with his MC swag. I love Kanye. Nas is still my overall favorite.
Kool Moe Dee's "Unsung" episode airs TV One, July 16, 9 p.m. EST)