Just over three weeks ago, SummerStage hosted the Rock Steady Crew 38th Anniversary show in Central Park with legendary headliners like Big Daddy Kane and Whodini. (The crowd was in for the ultimate surprise when Big Daddy Kane brought out his fellow Juice Crew members Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Marley Marl for an unforgettable performance of “The Symphony” to close out the evening.)
Other acts in attendance that day included Mr. Walt, Evil Dee, Your Old Droog, and DJ Scratch. They even squeezed in a quick tribute to PumpkinHead (RIP). But when Masta Ace, Stricklin and Wordsworth hit the stage, many showgoers looked puzzled. Who was this new super group? People began checking the web on their phones and looking surprised to learn that this group wasn’t new at all.
eMC officially formed after Masta Ace, Stricklin, Wordsworth and Punchline (former member who left the group in 2014) released their first collaborative track titled “Four Brothers” back in 2006. The guys responded to the craze with the release of their debut album The Show in 2007 on M3 Records.
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble spoke with the crew about their thoughts on the lack of awareness and promotion, as well as other projects fans can expect in the future.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Stricklin: My earliest memory…there used to be a record store here in Milwaukee called Mr. Washington’s records, and Mr. Washington had a little corner store and he sold, I want to say 45s, and “Rappers Delight” came out, and it was like a bigger 12” version. That was the first time I seen a hip-hop song on an album like that because me and my mom had albums like Roberta Flack and all that kind of stuff, but I had never seen hip-hop on a piece of vinyl like that. So, I would say going to Mr. Washington’s record store and my mom buying me the 12” of “Rapper’s Delight.” That’s probably my earliest memory.
Masta Ace: I’m not sure what I said last time, but him saying “Rapper’s Delight” actually sparked another thought of mine, which was my best friend at the time…his sister had a sweet sixteen party in my projects. They lived on the fourth floor in the building across from me, and “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap song officially that I had heard.
I’d heard “King Tim III” before that, but this was like a different thing. And they were kind of rappin’ over Good Times. Back then, there was no DJs spinnin’. There was no two turntables and a mixer. It was straight up play the record on the ends, you pick up the needle and you put it back at the beginning again. And when that record came on, I mean, we actually played the record five times in a row and just kept dancing to it. That’s how much we were enjoying it. I had to be probably about thirteen years old just dancing at that party with, you know, all the furniture moved and all the lights out. It’s a great memory.
Wordsworth: My earliest memory of hip hop would be playing Run DMC’s song, “Here We Go.” The drums on that beat and them chanting, “Here we go!” It got me amped, and the feeling of the music just told me to be a part of the culture.
When and how did all of you guys meet?
Wordsworth: We met in 2000 while I was recording an EP with a label owner that Ace was doing a single for. The label owner, John from Mona Hip Hop, played some of the music to Ace, and I was asked to be on Disposable Arts. Then, we toured for that album which solidified our bond.
Stricklin: Ace put out Disposable Arts in 2001, right? So, he had myself, as well as Words, contribute to that album. I think I had two songs on there, and I think Words was involved with two songs. When the album was about to drop, he was nice enough to invite us all to come on the European tour that he was about to go on and come and join in with the party every night and do a couple of those songs and just be on the road with him.
It was fascinating to me that an artist would open himself up like that to new people and kind of like sacrifice some of the money that would have went in this pocket because he had put us in rooms and all of that. So, it was special also because it was right after 9/11, and so, there was some hesitation as to whether we were even going to make the trip or not. Some of the guys were kind of afraid to even fly.
I took the motto of, “This has got to be the safest time to fly. I don’t think they’re gonna get us ten days after they just got us.” We all got on a plane ten or eleven days right after 9/11, and we went to Europe for the “Disposable Arts Tour,” and that’s kind of how we started our friendship and our artistry together.
Masta Ace: I met Stricklin…I heard him on a mixtape. There was this mixtape floating around with a whole bunch of different freestyles. This DJ had put all the freestyles from all his mixtapes all on one tape. And as I was going through it, there was a lot of really boring freestyles, and I was just like, “This is wack. I’m not really feelin’ most of these guys.”
And then there was this one that just kind of stood out to me, and it turned out to be Stricklin. I hit the DJ. I was like, “Yo, who’s this kid?” He was like, “Oh, he’s from Milwaukee.” And he gave me his email, and I just sent him an email saying, “Yo. Dope verse.” And, like Strick said, I wound up asking him to be on my album, Disposable Arts.
I met him though at D&D Studios cause a mutual friend of ours was working on a compilation album, and I told him about Strick, and he heard him and liked him and wanted to put him on the compilation. So, he flew Strick into New York to record at D&D, and we met at D&D for the first time and actually Strick recorded a song over a beat that I made because the producer who was supposed to show up didn’t show up. So, we wound up making a song over one of my beats. That was the first time we met. Cool guy. We got along.
There’s definitely a risk asking people to go on tour with you, especially when you don’t know them that well, but I took a calculated risk, and I brought him and Words with me, and everybody got along, actually had a really good time. And some of the memories from that first tour still linger on. We talk about some of those stories and laugh to this day.
Who would you guys name on your individual sound and/or your group sound?
Sticklin: Individually, my personal influence….I was a huge LL Cool J fan back in the day, a huge Kane fan, and a huge Kool G Rap fan. So, I’m pretty sure some of those guys leaked over into how I write and how I fit stuff. Eminem was a huge artist, and I was a huge fan of Eminem when he first came out. So, some of the humor in my rhymes is probably influenced by Em.
I was a huge Bootsy Collins fan back in the day. So, some of that funk. I don’t know if that’s influenced me as far as writing, but just overall, being a fan of music. That whole Funkadelic and Parliament and Bootsy and that whole camp. But emcee-wise, I’m going to say Cool J, G Rap, Kane and Em.
Wordsworth: Really our sound is 90s essence of integrity with a smart approach to stay relevant for any era. What influences the music are the fans from all the generations we grew up in and live in.
Masta Ace: And for me, definitely Rakim. I say Rakim because when he came out, I was rhyming a certain way. And then he came out, and it made me adjust the way I was rhyming. Anytime an artist comes out, and I start to kinda change because I hear something that opens up my mind to possibilities lyrically, I’m gonna have to cite those people as influences.
So, definitely Rakim, definitely LL when he came out rhyming with all the big words, and definitely Kane when he came out. Each of those artists were like, if you had a timeline, there’d be dots on my timeline of influences, and then KRS. KRS a little bit after that, coming with knowledge and trying to actually teach you something on a record. So, yeah, those are the four big ones to me.
As far as influences as a group, I don’t feel like we had any. There’s a lot of groups out there, but the type of group that we were, which was solo artists kind coming together to do an album. It kinda hadn’t been done. There was like one group that Xzhibit was behind. Slow Hand Steady. What was the name of that group?
Stricklin: Oh, I know what you’re talking about. Strong Arm Steady.
Masta Ace: Strong Arm Steady, yeah. I know they had come out and done something similar, but I didn’t really pay attention though. I didn’t hear any of the music, but I just know that they were a group, and they came together and did that. But beyond that, I felt like we were something unique that hadn’t been done.
What roles would you say each of you play within the group? Like, does someone play the leader, the creative, the strictly business type?
Wordsworth: Ace makes sure things are executed in a meticulous fashion to assure the music is cohesive. Strick is from the Midwest, which gives a perspective of all regions approach because Milwaukee has music from everywhere
Sticklin: Yeah, I would say that Ace plays more of the manager-type leader. He doesn’t really like force his leadership on people though like a strong-handed boss. He does things and leads by example. He don’t say much. We just watch him and pay attention and figure out that’s what we need to do. But when it’s time to handle business and stuff like that, Ace usually jumps in, and he’s eager to make sure everything gets taken care of. So, we appreciate that.
I really don’t know what my role is. I don’t know. Maybe Ace can speak on what he thinks my role is. I really don’t know. I just kinda get in where I fit in. If we need something done or some phone calls to be made, I’ll offer my help and be like, “Yo, I can do that,” but I don’t know if I have a specific role.
Words, if I was to say what Words brings, he’s just motivation in that he’s always ready to go. He’s always writing. He’s always recording. He’s always the motivating factor of just trying to stay busy. He also likes to be the one to go through all the beats that we get. He likes sitting and listening to beats from various producers, and he’ll bring beats to the table. I don’t necessarily do that as much. I don’t think Ace does it as much as Words. He likes bringing beats to the table like, “Yo, y’all like this? Yo, I like this.” I think that’s kind of like his role. That’s my opinion. I don’t know what Ace thinks.
Masta Ace: Yeah, I definitely agree with everything he said about Words. He brings that extra punch of energy when it comes to keeping things moving forward cause things can get a little stagnant, and guys will fall back and get complacent. But he’s always bringing tracks to the table.
I would say four, maybe even five, songs on the album wouldn’t have even happened if he didn’t push the issue. I felt like we were good. We had enough songs. We were good, and then he brings this guy Kic Beats to the mix, and lo and behold, they wind up being two singles and videos off the album, “Fly Thoughts” and “Signtology,” and now I’m working on a whole entire full-length album with him. So, definitely that’s what Words brings to the table. He’s very consistent with things moving forward and happening and continuing to happen.
Strick is a very organized guy. To me, he brings a lot of organization and kind of keeping ducks in rows: “Okay, guys. Where we at with the album? What’s missing? What do we need to do? We haven’t done this yet. Don’t forget about this.” I need those kind of pokes like, “Don’t forget that, and don’t forget that.” ‘Cause I got a million things going on, and there’s nobody there to do kind of checks and balances. That’s what Strick is great at, checks and balances. Things fall through the cracks, and he tries to not let things fall through the cracks.
For me, I don’t like the word “leader.” I don’t use that word. That’s something for Martians and people from outer space. I do try to lead by example. The guys kind of look to me as, when we’re on the road and something goes a little bit left, they always want to look to me to sewhat’s our reaction. Like, we get to a hotel, and it’s a terrible hotel and nobody wants to stay there, they look to me to be the person to go to the promoter and go, “Dude, this ain’t happening. Not doing this.” And I’m happy to speak on those issues and step up as kind of the spokesman and let promoters know when things aren’t right or aren’t correct. They look to me to do those things.
The Tonite Show dropped back in May. Are you guys happy with the response to the album?
Wordsworth: I’m happy with the response because it shows the growth of the group sonically. Songs like “Signtology” and “It Ain’t Easy” are some of our best songs that has broaden our appeal.
Stricklin: I’m happy with the response. I’m not happy with the awareness. I’m happy with the response from the people that actually are aware of the album and have the album and have listened to the album and gotten back to me and gave me a response. I’m not happy, like we discussed earlier with just the awareness. I don’t think enough people have responded. I don’t know. It’s kind of disappointing when you have such a, in my mind, a dope project and not everybody knows about it. It’s like, ugh, it’s not fair.
Wordsworth: Also, some people, I believe, are not into searching for good music because they’ve been tainted by what’s terrible but popular.
Stricklin: Like everybody knows about a lot of these other projects that aren’t as good, but not so many people know about a good project. That was cool that you brought it to my attention and to Ace’s attention that people became aware on Sunday in the park and were like, “Oh, okay. Let’s go back and check some of this stuff out.”
With the response from the people that actually heard the album, I love it. We maybe had a couple people that were all, “Oh, it’s too many skits, or “Oh, it’s this and that.” But for the most part, it’s all been positive and people been proud of the album. A lot of people can’t wait for the next one. It’s like, “Man, we just put this one out.”
People be thirsty.
Sticklin: Yup. Right away. The album just came out. “When the new one coming out?” Man. Ace, you got anything on that?
Masta Ace: I want to say that the people who have heard it, by and large, love the album. We just need to do a better job of getting more people to hear it and being more visible with the group. I think what’s going to help that is shows like the show we did in New York at the SummerStage Rock Steady event.
We’re gonna be going to Europe in November and hopefully Australia in December to do tours in support of the album. We’re gonna jump on stages and perform these records and let people know exactly what’s going on with this album, and we’re gonna sell a lot more records and build a lot more awareness once we get out on the road and start to show people what it’s about.
When can fans expect a new “eMC Date with Jimmy” episode?
Stricklin: Oh, wow. That’s a good question because I think I’m the one holding it up. That’s a good question. As soon as I get a couple of things recorded that need to be added to a one more webisode, we’ll have a new one. I know it’s been a minute. Life kind of took over. We’re gonna get back on it.
Wordsworth: Hopefully soon. Just want to let people catch up and make sure we keep progress fluent.
Have you guys heard anything about getting on the show?
Masta Ace: Not yet. It’s still pretty early. The whole purpose of the campaign, other than trying to get on the show, was really just to extend the life of the album from a promotion standpoint and an awareness standpoint.
It’s so funny because when we first started to put the episodes out, I was like, “I hope we don’t get on the show too quick.” But now that we’re at the point where we’re at where we’re over two months out since the album dropped, now it’s like, “I hope we hurry up and get on the show.”
I gotta try and do something. I work two buildings down from 30 Rock. I need to see what I can drop around there.
Masta Ace: We have to do the mailing. We gotta mail the CDs out. That was the plan that we said we were going to do was to send the album out to staff. So, we need to do that.
That’s smart. So, you said you guys were touring in Europe and Australia coming up. Do you guys have any plans to do any local stuff after that or just stick with that for now?
Wordsworth: Yes, Europe and Australia as of now, but anything can pop up.
Stricklin: We’re gonna do the Europe, Australia, New Zealand thing around Christmas, and then hopefully, early next year, we’ll go back to Canada. We did Canada maybe three or four years in a row, so we kind of took this year off to let them breathe, and then hopefully, early next year, we’ll go back because the shows in Canada are always dope.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it’s a gorgeous country. Landscape-wise, just the drives are incredible. The scenery…we do a lot of shows in these little ski towns, and it’s just wonderful.
I heard the scene is really good too.
Stricklin: Yeah, they got a dope scene, like every city we go to, it’s always like, the shows are packed and people are energetic. So, yeah, Canada hopefully early next year, and then after that, who knows.
Yeah, sad to say, the US doesn’t really show love the way that Europe and Canada do.
Stricklin: Nah. I think the US has a small promoter problem. I think the promoters here just don’t really get it, and they want to go put on shows when they really can’t afford them, so what they do is they find ways to short the artist because they really can’t afford to bring them, but they want to do the show, and instead of just backing off and waiting until they can afford it: “Ah, we’ll just put them in a dump hotel” or “We’ll hire our cousin Vinny as the sound man.” They just take too many shorts, and it shows.
Whereas overseas and Canada, promoters are pretty much on top of things. They’ve done it for a while, and they have their routine down. Things go more smoothly, I would say in my opinion, than in other places. We’ve had some good shows in the US, but, by and large, they’ve mostly been, you know, promoter failures.
Do you guys have any solo projects you want to promote?
Masta Ace: Yeah, definitely, man. I’m about ten or so songs deep on my next solo record, entirely produced by Kic Beats, which is the producer who worked with eMC on this album. He did two songs on the album that I mentioned. He and I joined forces. His production is really lending itself to my writing style. I’m excited about this album.
The album is going to take you back to my four years of high school, that time period in my life. So, it’s another period piece, this next record. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t revealed the title yet. I’m still kind of living with the title. I know what it is. I like to let the title marinate before I start letting it out.
Did anyone ever come back with what “Y.B.I.” stands for on Twitter?
Masta Ace: Nobody ever got it exactly right. A couple of people were off by a little bit, but I can reveal that. It’s “Young. Black. Intelligent.”
Yeah, I heard that when I was in the studio.
Masta Ace: Oh, that’s right! I forgot you were there.
You were like, “Don’t tell anyone.” Strick and Words, you got anything you want to promote?
Stricklin: I got an album that I think I’m doing with a producer named Koolade who did “I Like You Like” on the current album, and he’s done a lot stuff with me and Ace in the past. He did “Beautiful” for Ace. He’s out of Croatia. So, me, him and his manager have talked about doing an album with just me featured on his beats. We’re in the early stages, but I think that’s gonna be a go. So, once we get started, I’m gonna go ahead and knock it out.
Wordsworth: Yes, I have a new album called New Beginning produced by Donel Smokes. It comes out August 18, but you can order it now. The first two singles, “New Beginning” and another song “F.U. (Fingers Up)” featuring Blu is out now.
Do you guys have anything else you want to add or promote?
Stricklin: The big thing is the “Date With Jimmy” website. As much traffic as we can get through there, the better. So, it’s www.emcdatewithjimmy.com, and you can go there to find out about the campaign and about the mission statement. So the website, we would like more traffic on that and seeing what’s up with us and trying to get on the show and helping us and supporting us in that.
Masta Ace: We’ve got four videos, a video for “Triple Threat,” a video for “Signtology,” a video for “Fly Thoughts,” a video for “The Monologue,” and then we’ve got a new video coming for a song called “It Ain’t Easy” off the album. That’s probably coming in the next couple weeks.