Where Are They Now?: Milk Dee

50 Cent's album saving smash I Get Money owes as much to the high-pitched vocal it swipes from Brooklyn's Milk Dee to the Queens rapper’s own lyrical swagger.

As one half of the Audio Two along with his brother Gizmo, Milk scored an early hit with the Honey Drippers sampling (no worries, sample is cleared), sparse but thumping Hip-Hop anthem “Top Billin’”. Seems like everyone and their mama, including Milk, has come with their own take on 50’s song, a testament to the enduring influence of “Top Billin'”.Although he’s kept a relatively low profile in Hip-Hop circles, Milk has been anything but relegated to the side of a namesake carton. Focusing on production, he was responsible for singer Eamon’s 2004 hit “F*ck It (I Don’t Want You Back),” which sold millions of copies across the world. Throw in the money he receives from sample clearances, and it’s safe to assume his “I get money, money I got” couplet still rings true. Nevertheless, despite the rapidfire boasts and braggadocio of the original “Top Billin’,” Milk Dee is actually an incredibly humble guy. AllHipHop got to play catch up with MC Lyte’s half brother. Go Brooklyn.

AllHipHop: Milk, what you been up to?

Milk Dee: I been working this “I Gets Money,” Milk Dee [and] 50 Cent remix, pushing it and pushing the video. I just completed Eamon’s new album, Love & Pain. Right now we’re in the process of relaunching our label, First Priority Music, as an independent so that’s been keeping me real busy, paperwork and stuff like that. We have distribution, we have everything, it’s coming, we just been getting everything together.

AllHipHop: What was your first thought when you heard 50’s “I Get Money”?

Milk Dee: It was crazy, when I first heard it…well, as always, whenever I hear somebody using one of my samples it always makes me feel good. I thank God for my blessings. It makes me feel like I have an impact on what’s going on even if I’m not out there. But the first time I heard it, they was playing it so many times the first day and my phone was blowing up like, “Yo, this hot!” I was happy. My mother was like, “Oh, I hear your voice!”

AllHipHop: So the sample wasn’t cleared when you heard it?

Milk Dee:Initially they didn’t clear the sample. But now we’re at the point where we’re negotiating everything and we’re in the process of clearing it.

AllHipHop: Are you pretty much open to people sampling you?

Milk Dee: It’s so many. I can’t even tell you how many sample clearances I get a month. Most people don’t even have the slightest idea. I don’t really care. I don’t want to be part of anything that’s ya know, crazy. A lot of time I don’t get a chance to hear them before they’re cleared. I look at it as an honor for people to use me. And of course, it’s revenue. I would say I’m easing up on a hundred [times the song’s been sampled] right now. I got stack and stacks and stacks of sample clearances. A lot of people don’t know the small ones I get from overseas. There was a big song by a group called All Saints overseas that was a multi-platinum single. They don’t know about it here but they used “Top Billin’” in it—I get a lot of those.

AllHipHop: Must be a nice check.

Milk Dee: Yeah, it’s definitely gravy [laughing]

AllHipHop: The original “Top Billin’” how did it come together?

Milk Dee: I was actually working on a remix for one of Lyte’s songs, “Take It Light,” and I was just down there and I made the beat and I was putting her vocals to it. But then I got inspired to write something. I wrote and spit it and just recorded it and the next day I let Daddy-O and Giz hear it and they kind of let me know the heat, they was like “Yo, this is it right there.” I didn’t realize it. That’s basically how it came about. I was just playing around one night and did it, and Daddy-O and Giz let me know what it was.

AllHipHop: I’ve seen Daddy-O credited with producing it, so you really produced it?

Milk Dee: Well, I guess that all depends on what your definition of production is. Back in the days the producer, somebody like Quincy Jones, they wouldn’t have to do the music to produce the song. These days a lot of producers are really beatmakers. I made the beat, if that’s the question, but Daddy-O really produced it, if that makes any sense. He’s the one that oversaw everything that I did and it wasn’t completed until Daddy-O gave his approval and added his final touch to it. I consider it a joint production between Daddy-O and me, I did the beat. The kick, hi-hat and snare is from “Impeach The President.” That’s cleared, The Honey Drippers get paid everytime I get paid. Not Honey Drippers but Tuff America, they own that now. The guys that own the copyright, they get paid. A lot of people weren’t really clear on that either.

AllHipHop: What equipment did you use to make “Top Billin’” and what are you using now?

Milk Dee: When I did “Top Billin’” I used a Boss foot pedal sampler. It only samples two seconds, you can’t save it, they use it a lot with guitars and whatever. I had one of those and I triggered the sample with a Roland-707 drum machine. I recorded it on Tascam 248 4-track. Now, I got everything [laughing]. I got two studios [in Staten Island] full of equipment. The main thing that I use is a MPC2500 and Logic.

AllHipHop: After the Audio Two albums where did your career head?

Milk Dee: The last album I did was the EP on American, Never Dated. After that I started doing more production work. I did the Janet Jackson remix for “You Want This,” I did a couple of movie scores—I did Hells Kitchen, that’s with Mekhi Phifer and Angelina Jolie, I did the score for that movie. I did a score for another movie called Civil Brand…MC Lyte, Tichina Arnold, they’re in that. I had a really big artist overseas named Jason Downs, which I was featured in the hit single, it was called “White Boy With a Feather.” Then a whole of stuff in between there and then most recently the Eamon. “I Don’t Want You Back”, the number one played song of the year 2004, we sold 6 million copies on that album. I just been producing behind the scenes, developing artists, that kind of thing.

AllHipHop: The checks are lovely but do you ever miss the Hip-Hop spotlight?

Milk Dee: Yes, and it’s been haunting me for years. I’ve been really thinking about doing some more material on my own. I’m big enough to say that over the years the business scarred me a little bit and broke down my confidence. But everytime somebody samples me or all of the feedback I get on the e-mails, the MySpace it inspires me and it makes me feel like I can still be relevant. Ya know, you start getting up there in the age and they tell you that it’s a young man’s game. Ya know what I mean? [From] all of those things you form insecurities, I think that prevented me from doing it for a while.

AllHipHop: Was there a particular experience that left you scarred like you said?

Milk Dee: I wouldn’t say that it was any specific one. I would say one of the main things that effect me was getting involved in the major label system. I come from an independent background and when we were independent basically we made the decisions and we decided what was hot and what wasn’t hot. It’s funny because in the beginning when I first did “Top Billin’” and we shopped it to the labels, they were like “Oh, it’s wack, what is this?” I know it may be hard to consider in this day and age but back then it was something that wasn’t heard before. There were like, “Oh, your voice is high pitched. What’s with this name Milk Dee?” With Lyte they were like, “Oh, she sounds like a boy. She’s cursing, that’ll never work. Milk sounds like a girl, that’ll never work.” But in spite of that we still did what we felt and it broke, and twenty two years later it’s a classic. Once I got involved in the major label system, they kind of manipulate you into doing what they think is right, and it stifled me creatively because I’ve never been one of those producers or artists that just do whatever’s out. Anybody that knows my material, they know that I go out on the limb and do something different, not just the same old stuff. I had to get approval from cats that don’t understand what it is. Not to say that I didn’t learn anything, but I think that it stifled me creativity.

AllHipHop: So do you feel with the international stuff and with Eamon that you had more creative leeway?

Milk Dee: Yes. What happened is…like with Eamon we shopped to all of the top labels and they all heard the single and they knew it was a hit. They were scared because of the cursing. [But] when you find that one person or that one label that can see the vision, then they’ll do it and it will work out. But even in those situations, they’ll be able to see the vision initially, but then as time goes on they want to convert you into their vision.We’ve done a lot of business with Jive over the years—Eamon and Jason Downs, they were both through Jive. Jive is known as being a visionary label so when we go see Barry Weiss we already know that he has vision. That still doesn’t mean that our vision and his vision are always completely in sync, but he has more vision than the next guy.

AllHipHop: What’s the status of the Audio Two now?

Milk Dee: Well, me and Giz don’t work together anymore. The new stuff that’s coming will be Milk Dee. I’m in the studio right now working on new material, a single is coming real soon. I’m taking a break right now to do this interview [laughing].Like I said, we’re re-launching First Priority. We’re releasing Hip-Hop, R&B and Pop. I think this whole 50 Cent thing is a good opportunity to get my feet wet and start having some fun with it.

AllHipHop: What’s missing from the game now compared to back then?

Milk Dee: It’s really hard to answer this question because number one, a lot of people don’t like to hear the truth and If I say it, it’s always easy for them to say, “Oh, you’re old school.” Or whatever, which is absolutely insane to me. Hip-Hop flows through my veins. It’s not just Hip-Hop, it’s music across the board. What bother me the most…it’s the same way in Rock and R&B, it’s lacking the passion. Really, I challenge all people that love Hip-Hop to raise the bar. In other words, if it’s wack, say it’s wack. If it’s great, then buy it. Make the artist work harder. It seems like it’s a little lackadaisical to me. Financially it’s great, the revenue is on the top. But coming from somebody that loves music, it’s lacking the innovativeness, the creativeness…the best way I can describe [it] is, I remember back in the days when you’d hear a Hip-Hop album and you’d play it and you’d be like, “Oh my God! That’s hot!” You’d want to keep playing it over and over again. That’s that shit. Now, a lot of the songs, not all of them, but a lot of them, it doesn’t make me feel anything. I hear it, I could do with it, do without it. How do you describe that feeling? I really can’t. But I just don’t get that same feeling—passion.