Hip-Hop lovers all know Grandmaster Caz as one of the founders of the culture. His list of accolades is lengthy, but this April he’s looking to add one more, Emmy winner. Caz has been nominated for a New York Emmy thanks to a segment that he was a part of on the NYC TV show “Cool in Your Code.” This week we caught up with the Hip-Hop legend to talk about the show, what he’s up to now, what he thinks of the current Hip-Hop scene, and why you’re more likely to see him rocking out to Billy Joel and Barry Manilow if you catch him in his down time.
Adam Bernard: You’ve been nominated for a New York Emmy for being on “Cool in Your Code.” The piece you were nominated for involved Hush Tours. Tell everyone about these tours and where you’re taking people.
Grandmaster Caz: Basically it’s the first and only Hip-Hop cultural sightseeing tour. We pick up tourists from mid-town Manhattan and take them uptown to Harlem and to The Bronx and along the way show them some of the historical landmarks and places where Hip-Hop was originated and I teach them about the history, where it started, how it started, and give a little better perspective of the Hip-Hop picture as a culture and not just rap music. I know most of the international audience that takes the tour, they love it, they stay in touch with me and it’s very enlightening, I try to make it as entertaining as possible.
AB: Do you feel it’s more for the international audience that didn’t grow up around Hip-Hop or do you think that a lot of people that are involved in Hip-Hop today might benefit from jumping on the bus?
Caz: I think both, but I think that people involved with Hip-Hop today need it more than anyone. I think overseas they have a higher appreciation for the beginnings and how Hip-Hop started than just a total infatuation with what Hip-Hop is today. They’re more intent on “OK, where does this come from and who are the people that first did it?”
AB: I guess that could be a result of them not being from the area so curiosity leads them to explore a little deeper.
Caz: Exactly. People from here, if they’re familiar with it, kind of take if more for granted, especially in New York where people see me every day. I’m a New Yorker and more specifically I’m from The Bronx, so it’s a different situation for people who read about or have heard about you but have never actually met you to be there with you in that intimate an environment. I enjoy it myself.
“Hip-Hop will never die because Hip-Hop is a way of life, it’s a culture, it’s all-inclusive.”
AB: Being one of the true godfathers of Hip-Hop, please tell everyone that Hip-Hop isn’t dead.
Caz: Well Hip-Hop will never die because Hip-Hop is a way of life, it’s a culture, it’s all-inclusive. What’s kind of dying is rap music and I think that’s what Nas was talking about when he said Hip-Hop is dead. The heart and the soul of Hip-Hop, it’s inside of you and once it’s commercial and it’s for sale it kinda waters it down, but rap music is only one of the basic four elements of the culture of Hip-Hop, so the fact that people’s appreciation for it is kind of waning has to do with the fact that there’s less substance involved in it because those other elements aren’t involved. It’s about b-boys, it’s about DJs, it’s about graffiti, and when you take out the rest of the culture and just narrow it down to one element eventually that element is going to get watered down. I think that’s what Nas meant by Hip-Hop is dead.
AB: Give me a few things you’re digging about today’s current Hip-Hop scene because clearly there’s still some good stuff going on.
Caz: Yeah, definitely there’s some good stuff going on, the problem is we don’t have access to it. We don’t have access to all the good stuff that’s out there, we get 10-13 records a day on radio and that rotation lasts for months, so the rest of the music you really have to go out and search for. There are artists out here that exemplify that real Hip-Hop spirit and lyrical skills on top of just having good songs and those are the cats that they kind of consider underground, the Talib Kwelis and the Pharoahe Monchs, The Roots and guys like that, but it’s out there. Good music’s out there you just gotta find it, just look beyond the radio.
AB: So how hard is it for you to listen to the radio today?
Caz: I really don’t. If I do it’s 106, Lite FM and I’m trying to catch a Barry Manilow song.
AB: Those ads always make me crack up.
Caz: Hey I can sing those ads to you. I’m a child of the 70’s, that’s what I grew up to. Though I hold the position I do in Hip-Hop those are my early musical influences also. When you grew up listening to real music, or music that has meaning and now you’re involved in Hip-Hop there’s a big drop, so you tend to go back to what was cool to you, what you’re familiar with and what you know. That’s the kind of stuff I basically listen to.
AB: How bad is it that we’re actually living the cliché “they don’t write em like they used to?”
Caz: You know what, as much as I hate to say it and sound like my uncle or grandfather, (Caz imitates an old man’s voice) “they don’t make music like they used to,” it’s the truth, man. It’s like music skips a couple of generations and doesn’t get good again. That second and third generation just miss out, it’s like they lost and you have to wait for good music to come back around again.
“I hear Billy Joel all the time because I have “Piano Man” in my iPod. I have all of Billy Joel’s shit in my iPod.”
AB: Yeah, I heard “Piano Man” the other day and thought damn, this song is really deep.
Caz: There it is, I hear Billy Joel all the time because I have “Piano Man” in my iPod. I have all of Billy Joel’s shit in my iPod.
AB: I think that might surprise a few people to hear.
Caz: Oh yeah, like I said, I’m a child of the 70’s. I don’t listen to a lot of Hip-Hop unless I’m DJing. I still spin so I have to be up on the new music and what’s current and what people like, but basically my main sets have to do with old school and classics. I’m current, I have everything from the new Nas to Jim Jones, everything that the kids listen to today. If I need it I got it, trust me, I’m a DJ, I gotta have it, but where my heart is is with the classics.
AB: So I don’t even know if this next question is going to apply, but which rappers do you feel are fit to carry the torch through 2007 and beyond?
Caz: Oh there’s a few and sometimes I really gotta kick myself because I don’t really have them in the front of my mind when asked the question and it seems like I’m not really feeling anybody but there are some cats out here, I don’t pump their stuff on a regular basis, but they definitely hold the torch and especially some of the younger guys, guys like Papoose. Papoose is a throwback to one of the early nice lyrical MCs and right now he’s finding himself and adapting to sell records, but you can tell from his mixtape days that the guy is crazy talented, and so is Cassidy. You’ve got guys that are just great period, legends, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Pharaohe Monch. Mos Def is one of the most versatile guys out there and a great MC. So yeah, I do feel a lot of these cats, some of the novelty songs that have come out, the “Walk It Out” and “Chicken Noodle Soup” and all that kinda stuff, kids love it and I can’t get mad. It’s like somebody scratching a chalkboard with their fingernails when it comes on but you have to find something good in it because little kids, babies jump to that and dance to it.
AB: What changes would you like to see made in Hip-Hop?
Caz: A little more versatility on the radio with the radio stations and the video shows. Like I said, those songs and playlists are limited to 10-13 songs and it’s very redundant and ridiculous. If you like a song it sticks with you, you don’t have to hear it every third song because there’s a lot of other music to be heard out here and the radio stations just monopolize the airwaves with the same music over and over. It’s redundant and it’s bad for music and it’s bad for Hip-Hop.
“We’re tossed to the side like OK, out with the old, in the with the new, let’s keep it moving, thanks a lot.”
AB: As an older MC, do you feel the legends are treated correctly in 2007?
Caz: No, by no means. You compare somebody like myself or Kool Herc or Grandwizard Theodore, who invented scratching, to a Willie Nelson or a Mick Jagger or any of these cats who’ve been around their particular genre of music form that amount of time and they’re held as icons by their peers and the music industry while we’re tossed to the side like OK, out with the old, in the with the new, let’s keep it moving, thanks a lot. In every other culture in society the cats, once they retire, they’re the veterans, they’re the OG’s, they’re supposed to step into management positions automatically. They’re supposed to go be coaches, or trainers, or managers, or scouts for the team. It happens in every sport, why can’t it happen in Hip-Hop?
AB: What do you think causes the Hip-Hop audience to feel everything is disposable?
Caz: It’s not the Hip-Hop audience, it’s the people who manipulate the Hip-Hop audience. The Hip-Hop audience doesn’t get a choice, they hear what they’re given. Somebody in an office says “oh those guys are older and the young kids aren’t going to be able to relate to them, so don’t even give them a choice of hearing them, don’t sign them, don’t put their music out.” It’s already been predetermined that the audience will not be able to relate to an older artist, especially an older Hip-Hop artist, and let’s most on, let’s keep it young, let’s keep it gangsta.
AB: Do you think it was almost easier for the audience back in the day when Hip-Hop wasn’t on the radio all of the time and they had to go out and find artists for themselves?
Caz: It was a different time and I think you would have been lucky and blessed to enjoy Hip-Hop when it was live, when it was word of mouth, so and so is playing at this park, or so and so is playing at this club, and we were handing out flyers. I think yeah, because you got to see people live, you got to see them on the proving ground. It wasn’t like recording studio, make a hot record, go out on tour, start doing interviews and then do shows and then you don’t even know how to do a show. There’s no artist and repertoire anymore, there’s nobody to train artists how to talk and before they go out in the public how to do a live show and how to relate to the audience and all those different things that make a true artist. They’re just run through the machine and everything that it takes to make an artist is all in reverse.
AB: Complete this sentence for me: The future of Hip-Hop is…
Caz: Dim. Dim but not dead.
” I am alive, well, healthy and viable and about to take the world by storm once again…”
AB: Finally, is there anything about you that you’d like people to know that they may not know already?
Caz: I don’t know how much people already know, but just know that I am alive, well, healthy and viable and about to take the world by storm once again and it’s not a comeback, I never stopped, I never left, I’ve been consistent for 32 years in this culture we call Hip-Hop and I’m ready to go another 32 years.
AB: Are you saying there’s going to be another album?
Caz: Oh yeah! That’s in the works right now, I’ve got some really heavy hitters as far as production getting behind this thing and yes I will be coming out with an album soon.
The New York Emmys will be announced on April 1st.