Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Rap

When Spoonie Gee spit a verse, he typically had a lot more than 48 bars in his raps. Two decades later, Gabriel Jackson is a man of a few words. But as one of the first nationally-known Harlem MCs, Spoonie’s legacy speaks for him. Starting with “Spoonin’ Rap” in 1979, the MC had hits including “Love Rap” and “Take it Off” before his final releases in the late ‘80s, early production credits with Marley Marl and Teddy Riley.

Spoonie is still rolling with Tuff City Records, the New York label that in addition to Enjoy, Sugar Hill, and Sounds of New York made Spoonie Gee a major star in the early ‘80s. With The Godfather of Rap still a desired commodity by collectors, Spoonie Gee spoke to AllHipHop.com about the times he rhymed in, preserving his finances, his greatest hit and the difference three decades can make. As one of the least vocal Hip-Hop pioneers, it’s an honor to politic with the Godfather.

AllHipHop.com: To what extent do you think that your relationship with your uncle Bobby Robinson [CEO, Enjoy Records] is the reason why we’re talking today?

Spoonie Gee: He taught me a lot about the business. He’s a pioneer, as you know, of the music business. Our relationship is a very good relationship, if you’re asking about that.

AllHipHop.com: I am, but I’m also asking because history has suggested that a man by the name of Peter Brown came by the house looking for a talented rapper…

Spoonie Gee: Peter Brown came to the record shop, and told my brother that he was looking for a rapper. My brother called his father; I was staying in Bobby’s house at the time, with him and my aunt. I went downstairs and Peter Brown introduced himself, and so then he said, “Can you rap?” So I gave him a lil’ taste of what I could do, and then he said, “You want to go into the studio?” I said “Yeah.” The next day, we went into the studio and I made “Spoonin’ Rap.” The rest is history.

AllHipHop.com: Is it true that “Spoonin’ Rap” was recorded in one take?

Spoonie Gee: Yeah. It was. “Spoonin’ Rap” was recorded in one take.

AllHipHop.com: Peter Brown had a large name in Disco in those days. What do you think drove him towards rap in 1979. Was it money, was it genuine interest?

Spoonie Gee: I think he was going with the flow. Rap was hot [because of] Sugar Hill Gang. He was friends with Joe Robinson [founder, Sugar Hill Records], so I guess he wanted to try it himself, and see what he could do with it. Like I said, we went in, did one take, and the record became big. I didn’t even think the record was gonna be big. [Laughs] It became real big, man. I just did it to be doin’ it, ‘cause I was a rapper, you know? Really, a lot of people got the Peter Browns mixed up. This is not the one who made “Funkin’ for Jamaica.” That’s a different person. [My producer] was in the music business, but he never really was big in it – just a local guy. I think my record was the biggest record that he ever had.

AllHipHop.com: Not too long ago, I interviewed Edan, and MC and producer out of Boston, who’s been a real purveyor of that early ‘80s rap sound. I asked him what the most “dusted sounding record” ever was, he said “Spoonin’ Rap.” Tell me about the input that you had in the way that single record sounded…

Spoonie Gee: Okay, you know The Headhunters. That’s really where I got the beat from, The Headhunters. [beat boxes the bassline] This engineer at the studio – I think his name was Dave or somethin’ like that – he’s the one who put the bassline together. The idea of the reverb came from the engineer. I just started rappin’ while he was puttin’ things together. He added the reverb, saying it sounded better. That part really wasn’t my idea, but it sounded so good, I said, “Leave it like that.” As far as people today, guys trying to get that sound, it was different back then. There’s a lot of violence in the rappin’ now and all that. The sounds is different too, but it’s still the same as far as the culture is concerned. The culture of rap is still the same, styles just change. With me, I was just raw. I wasn’t trying to be commercial or nothin’, I was just rappin’. I’d write my raps and just keep on rappin’ – without stopping; that was my thing back in the days.

AllHipHop.com: New York City, especially Harlem was a much more violent and raw place back in 1979. As exaggerated as it may be, that’s the year The Warriors came out. Why do you think your generation of MCs didn’t talk about violence until a few years later?

Spoonie Gee: I used to rap about girls and stuff like that, ‘cause that’s what I was into. I mentioned jail on “Spoonin’ Rap” [though]. I had a cousin who was imprisoned at the time, and he would just tell me things about prison at the time. “Jail is a game, it’s called survival / They run it down to you on your first arrival…” That’s where I got all that from. But I never really was into violence or nothin’ like that. When I rapped, I just rapped about what I was about. Like “Love Rap,” these are things that I really experienced. That’s what I write about. I seen a little bit of violence when I was comin’ up, but that never was my thing to write about.

AllHipHop.com: That’s interesting though. Years later, you had a record called “That’s My Style,” which was aimed at Schoolly D. Many people consider him to be a very violent rapper, especially in the mid 1980s. So what style were you referring to?

Spoonie Gee: To me, he was trying to bite me. That’s how I felt, so that’s why I did the record. When he first came out, people thought it was me. [Laughs] People were like, “Spoon, I like the new record.” I was like, “Huh? That’s not my record.” People really thought it was me [because of the delivery, not the content.] I liked [“P.S.K. (What Does it Mean?)”] though.

AllHipHop.com: You are one of a select few of artists who can say they released rap records in the 1970s. How did it feel when you saw that new class come in and really switch things up in the mid ‘80s?

Spoonie Gee: Like I said, I respect anybody that’s got a craft and a good style. It was that I felt disrespected, it was that people thought it was me – as far as when Schoolly made his record. I just felt like “Why can’t you try to imitate somebody else?” All the new guys that came up, I respect all of them. I didn’t feel no way about it.

AllHipHop.com: In later years, you were one of the first people to work with Marley Marl and Teddy Riley. Tell me about how that came to be…

Spoonie Gee: Aaron Fuchs had put me and Marley together. It turned out very well. Marley’s very creative, and we got along very well. I was writing, and he was making music. [Fuchs] also put me together with Teddy Riley. The tracks came out good. Like I said, I got respect for both of ‘em; they’re very creative producers. Aaron has a good ear. He knew what I needed, as far as the sound was concerned. That’s what he did – he went and got the right people to go and make the music.

AllHipHop.com: You put out your first record on Tuff City Records almost 25 years ago. You’re still with them today. How does that feel? Smokey Robinson was at Motown for over four decades, but Hip-Hop artists today change labels like athletes change teams…

Spoonie Gee: We have a very good business relationship. Aaron Fuchs, the President of Tuff City Records, he taught me a lot too, as far as the record business is concerned. He’s very helpful in a lot of ways. As far as my records are concerned, he makes sure that I get paid. I can always talk to him and my lawyer Jeff Gandell – the whole work crew down there is good. Tuff City is just Tuff City, a good company.

AllHipHop.com: You mentioned a lawyer. How important is it for Hip-Hop pioneers like yourself to have lawyers out there fighting when today’s artists wrongfully lift something that you created?

Spoonie Gee: It’s very important. See, you gotta understand: in the music business, it’s 10 percent music and 90 percent business as far as I’m concerned. If you take care of your business, your business will take care of you. These days, people are just taking peoples’ records and using them without their permission. So to have a lawyer that’s on top of that is very important, ‘cause he’s gonna make sure you get paid. It’s very important to have a legal team behind you – especially in the music business. I’m glad I got mine.

AllHipHop.com: Today, Harlem has a real reputation for being flashy and flamboyant. You were the first nationally recognized MC from Harlem. Was it that way for you too?

Spoonie Gee: No, I was never flashy. Not me.

AllHipHop.com: You had a Mercedes Benz drop-top on the cover of Godfather of Rap…

Spoonie Gee: That wasn’t flashy – that was just a car I liked. It wasn’t really flashy.

AllHipHop.com: “Love Rap” goes down in the books as one of the best romance raps ever. Obviously, you tell an in-depth story on that record, but when you were making it, were you making it with somebody in mind?

Spoonie Gee: My uncle Bobby Robinson gave that record its name. It didn’t have a name, and he put “Love Rap” on there. He said, “We’re calling it [that] ‘cause you’re a love rapper.”

AllHipHop.com: You rhymed a lot about women. How much of your audience do you think was female?

Spoonie Gee: A lot, a big percentage. [Laughs] A lot of girls liked my records – maybe 50 percent. [Laughs]

AllHipHop.com: Was there a point when you decided it was time to stop making music?

Spoonie Gee: Uhhh…I knew I was getting older and I didn’t want to be a rapper for the rest of my life. There was a time like…’91, when I said to myself, “Should I go back into the business?” I decided nah. There’s been times like that, but there never was a time when I didn’t want to make music, I just took a break. I’m getting older, I started doing different things like working and all that.

AllHipHop.com: Even though you’re not releasing material anymore, do you find yourself rapping in the car or the shower or anything like that?

Spoonie Gee: Yeah, sometimes I do do that; I catch myself doin’ that. I rap a lil’ somethin’.

AllHipHop.com: Grandmaster Caz and Busy Bee still make music, but they’ve made careers out of lecturing and educating on Hip-Hop too. Would you ever do that?

Spoonie Gee: If I could help somebody and tell young guys comin’ into rap about the business aspect of the game and how they should stay focused, I would do that – if it’s possible. I would lecture about the Hip-Hop game, if I had the opportunity.

AllHipHop.com: Are you still a Hip-Hop consumer?

Spoonie Gee: Nah, not really. My son does. My son has a lot of Hip-Hop CDs.

AllHipHop.com: I don’t know how old your son is, but does he understand that his father laid the groundwork for this?

Spoonie Gee: Yeah. He’s 18 [years old]. He does. He [wants to rap too]. [Laughs]

AllHipHop.com: “Spoonin’ Rap” is worth a ton of money on vinyl. Do you still own many copies?

Spoonie Gee: Yeah, I have ‘em. I have two.

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