Wild Style @ 25: Grandmaster Caz

Grandmaster Caz shouldn’t need an introduction…but he does. That’s because many of the fans that love Hip-Hop don’t truly know who he is. Grandmaster Caz is one of the founders of the music that dominates today’s airwaves, and is also involved in most of the “firsts” that occurred in Hip-Hop. The culture's first parties, first DJs, first rappers, first crews, first mainstream song, and first movie all seem to involve Grandmaster Caz. Here, the Bronx bomber talks about his spin on the industry, his regrets, his contemporaries, and an upcoming film on 1977. The Bronx is no longer burning, but Grandmaster Caz is burned in the first paragraph of Hip-Hop's history, and we all must tip our caps and hand over the mic. AllHipHop.com: What is the major difference in Hip-Hop from your pioneering days to now?Grandmaster Caz: The Money. The money, the commercialism…the business. The business of Hip-Hop and rap music. It’s a huge difference between then and now. You always hear people say, “Back in the day, they did it for the love [of the music].” Back then there was nothing but love. We loved doing [Hip-Hop], and we loved what we got from the people, but there was no money in it. Once commercialism came in and people started making money off of what we did it, it was time for us to become businesspeople. A lot of us, myself included, missed that boat. The whole first generation of Hip-Hop missed that boat. We continue to do what we do for the same reasons we did it before —this is what we do. We started it. There’s no age limit to what we do. We’re Hip-Hop until we die. Right now there is a definite difference between the rap industry and the culture of Hip-Hop.AllHipHop.com: So if you could do it all over, you would have been more involved in the business end of the music?Grandmaster Caz: Oh are you kidding me? Definitely. We could not foresee the power of what we were creating. None of us were educated enough, or informed enough to know all the things that go with what we were doing and what was to become of it. AllHipHop.com: In terms of business, for better or worse, your history is intertwined with the first mainstream rap record “Rapper’s Delight.” Do you care to speak on the controversy?Grandmaster Caz: There’s no controversy. Basically, I’m the third writer of “Rapper’s Delight.” There’s three writers; Master Gee, Wonder Mike, and me. I’ve never received any money for the record. My name is not credited on the record. The dollars in writing and publishing are incredible and I never got any [money]. The real controversy is just that these guys were part of a machine that had the knowledge and did not inform any of their artists. [The Sugar Hill Gang] got it like we got it. I caught the short end of the stick because I didn’t get any money. At least they’ve been touring for the last 25 years. The real controversy is that the first rap song that brought the music to the masses was fueled by a bunch of crooks. I mean, by the time I had the ability to do anything in terms of getting my money it was too late.AllHipHop.com: Well, even with all the controversy you still were involved in the first mainstream rap album. On another note, what was it like being involved in the first rap movie, Wild Style?Granmaster Caz: You remember the movie Forrest Gump, where this guy is involved in every historical thing that happened? I feel that way as far as Hip-Hop. From [Kool] Herc’s first parties on up to everything that shaped this culture…I have been apart of everything or witnessed it. Wild Style is one of those things that, luckily for us, comes back every few years with new life. The new generations are getting a hold of it because when you look back to the origins of Hip-Hop Wild Style is your bible. It was the first movie, Style Wars, being a documentary, which showed Hip-Hop. The movie was so authentic because everyone in the film was who they were in real life. These guys came and really found out who was who in the streets. They went to the people and the people said to go see Busy Bee, The Cold Crush Brothers, The Fantastic Five, [Grand Wizard] Theodore… We had to tone it down some because we had moved past the hole in the wall spot, but--AllHipHop.com: What do you mean tone it down?Grandmaster Caz: By the time we were filming Wild Style, we were dressing differently. We were wearing leather suits…dressing in what we could say was a professional manner. [The director] told us to wear regular clothes and dress how we dressed in the streets.AllHipHop.com: What was the feeling on the set?Grandmaster Caz: You know, at the time there was a little tension because we had a little rivalry with the Furious Five. We kept it civil, but we were headed for a battle. I mean, filming was great because we shot the movie around where I grew up. It kind of made us celebrities in our area. Most of the interesting and funny stuff happened when we were on tour…like when we went to Japan.AllHipHop.com: What was it like being out there?Grandmaster Caz: When we went out there, they had no concept of Hip-Hop. It was 25 of us that went out to Japan and [the Japanese people] treated us like royalty. We would go to the clubs and the DJs would look at us dumbfounded as we scratched records. We would come back to the club a few days later and the DJs who just watched us were there trying to scratch too. We would see little kids in the street trying to break dance because they saw us doing it in the streets in front of crowds of people.AllHipHop.com: Have you gone back to Japan?Grandmaster Caz: No, but I meet people from all over the world who recognize me from Wild Style. I do Hip-Hop sight-seeing tours and we get people from all over the word, including Japan, who call me a legend. They burn candles for us. If I go back to Japan, I might not ever come back.AllHipHop.com: What is it like to have that kind of respect outside of the U.S. and not here?Grandmaster Caz: It’s hard to describe. It’s like a catch 22. I’ve meet Australians who tell me they love my music. That’s what keeps me going. That’s why I’m 47 and still doing this. That’s why we all do this.AllHipHop.com: Are you still in contact with the other people who were involved in the film?Grandmaster Caz: Yeas I am. I stay glued to the pulse of Hip-Hop. My best friends are the people that I grew up with and we have a kinship. We’ve shared each others’ struggles and we’re survivors. We’re always doing things in the community. We record together. We tour together. Our relationship is forever; it’s like a family. AllHipHop.com: What else are you involved in today?Grandmaster Caz: A lot. Off the top of my head, I’ve been involved in every VH1 special regarding Hip-Hop. The latest is going to be a documentary about New York City in 1977. AllHipHop.com: You were a young guy in 1977. What is the biggest difference between the youth now and the youth during the times you wee coming up?Grandmaster Caz: There’s a gap between the generations. The values and everything that was good about Hip-Hop has skipped about two generations. What today’s generation has right now is not even Hip-Hop. They’re just listening to songs on the radio. It’s hard to talk to this generation. They didn’t have grandma, or grandma, or in some cases, pops. There is no one to pass those values onto the next generation. The radio was different during my generation. The radio is so segregated that you can’t expect these kids to get a music education. It’s the same songs over and over again. So now they depend upon themselves and make their own thing. When they try to look back, they can’t even look back that far cause there was no one there to show them.AllHipHop.com: Well is there any artist out now that your listening too?Grandmaster Caz: John Legend. He’s somebody that’s doing something different and goes outside the regular scope. As far as rap and Hip-Hop….I would have to think about that.AllHipHop.com: That’s interesting that you would name an R&B artist.Grandmaster Caz: Exactly. There’s a few contemporary rap artists that I dig, but no one that just jumps out at me. I would have to think about it. I mean…Nas. He’s Hip-Hop. I feel his sentiment. Nas right now is the most Hip-Hop dude.AllHipHop.com: If there is one thing that you can let the hip hop generation know what would that be?Grandmaster Caz: We can’t talk to Alexander Graham Bell about the telephone or the Wright brothers about their plane. But the people who developed this hip hop thing are still here. Kool Herc is still here, [Afrika] Bambaataa is still here. Flash, myself….we’re all still here. Take advantage of this opportunity because this is history. This is our history. If we don’t respect it or preserve it, a hundred years from now you’re going to look up Hip-Hop and it’s gonna be a picture of Eminem.