Let Me Learn You Something: Heltah Skeltah

 


I remember the first time ever seeing Heltah Skeltah by themselves: the video for “Operation Lockdown” from the classic debut Nocturnal.  It was on a local hip hop video show here in Philly called Urban X-Pressions.  The hazy, crunched image on my antenna TV only added to the mystique of two six-foot plus grimy, dreaded beasts dressed up like “Last of the Mohicans.”  It was terrifying and exciting at the same time–the low key, almost spoken flows of two MC’s over a harp-filled beat provided by E-Swift of the Alkaholiks was something I’d yet to hear a rapper do in 1996.  Their name was dope, the song was incredible, and the album was among the best in the then newly formed Duck Down catalogue.

The funny thing is that everyone loved and owned and listened to Nocturnal…and absolutely no one loved and owned and listened to their follow-up, ’98 Magnum Force.  After that album bricked, Ruck became Sean Price, the brokest rapper you know selling crack after the show and largely vanished, save for a few guest apperances on 12” here and there.  Rock signed with the then-hot DJ Lethal of Limp Bizkit fame only to fall in major label purgatory for over five years.  It seemed like just another case of the industry squeezing out heavyweights to make room for Chingy, Drag-On, and internet beef.  

Heltah Skeltah could’ve easily vanished with 1 classic LP under their belts to appease the aging 80s babies who still save their old copies of the Source.  They could’ve popped up on Nas’ “Where Are They Now?” remix from ’06, got a spoonful of nostalgic interest from fans, and sifted back into the real world of construction jobs and bills.  But things changed after Sean Price’s breakthrough solo album Monkey Barz dropped in ’05.  The (other) guy from Heltah Skeltah could still rap and make bangers with ease.  His follow-up, last year’s hilarious and rugged Jesus Price Superstar, met more sales and acclaim opening the door to a new Heltah Skeltah album 10 years in the making.  

With momentum behind them, and Duck Down Records operating on all cylanders, the guys are back with the album D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team) dropping on September 30th.   Older and wiser, but still funnier than Carlos Mencia and lyrically better than your favorite crack dealer, Ruck and Rock are ready to learn you something!

 

1.  At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?

Sean Price:  I gotta thank Rock for that.  I was doing my regular thug thizzle.   Rock’s the one that really put the battery in my back ‘cause I wasn’t really thinking about record deals and all that, you know?  So I gotta thank Rock for that.

Rockness Monster:  I was thinking about that when I was 15 or something, when a lot of people would just walk up on me, or people that I knew, they didn’t know that I knew how to rhyme and they would be like, ‘Yo you should be a rapper, B!’  I guess from looking at me and the sound of my voice, they would always be like, ‘Yo you got a voice to be a rapper.”  And I’m like, ‘Yeah I already rhyme!”  I started believing it and knowing that if niggas can see that, then I must be onto something and I should run with it.  This is really what I want to do.

 

2.  How has New York shaped your sound and molded you as an MC?

Sean Price:  I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily New York.  Overall, it’s just hip hop.  Being from where I’m from, Brownsville, you know, it’s kinda grimy out here.  It’s territorial.  That’s just how I am, man.  It’s a part of my make-up and it comes across in the music.

Rockness Monster:  Just New York overall.  Like before the South was poppin’ and before even Cali was poppin’, and big shouts to my niggas in the south and on the west coast, but before all that blew up, New York was known for so many MC’s and everybody had a different flow.  Being from New York, we got that where our flow is crazy, you understand me?  We don’t have a repetitive flow.  The way we rhyme and the shit we rhyme about, Ruck told you about all of that.  We get into playing with words so much ‘cause New York is a slicking talking city.  Kane, G Rap, Rakim, KRS-One, all of these niggas had different, complex flows and shit.  These is are forefathers and shit.  These is our OG’s.  And they so distinctive and we was listening to them was we was making shit so we got a lot of that in us, pause. 

 

3.  Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?

Sean Price:  My team!  I vibe off my team, man.  Before I first started to put words together on some rap stuff, it used to be me and my man Illa Noyze, we used to be in the crib all day just jotting it down.  My influence is my people: Tek, Steele, Buckshot, Illa Noyze.  We all vibe off each other.

Rockness Monster:  I got all of my Boot Campions, I got all of my MFG niggas.  That’s a lot of people.  A lot of my artists, I keep them sharp but at the same time they keep me sharp.  They might be into some shit I might not even know about but they’ll bring it to my attention ‘cause they out there where I’m not.  It keeps me in touch with a little bit of everything.  Basically, overall, the family, you understand me?

 

4.  With everything you’ve learned thus far, what do you wish you could have told yourself at the beginning?  Would you have done anything differently?

Rockness Monster:  I don’t really get into shit like that.  I just look at the way shit go or the way shit went and I appreciate the position I’m in right now.  If you remember Back to the Future, if you go back and move one thing you flip the whole shit!  Nah!

Sean Price:  I agree!

 

5.  What’s hard for you?  What do you struggle with?

Sean Price:  My chorus game, I’m improving with my chorus game.  If you listen to like Monkey Barz and Jesus Price, I’ll rhyme my ass off but then you’ll hear Rock on the chorus.  So if anything, I need to improve on my chorus game, but I’m working on it, I just ain’t sayin’ that!

Rockness Monster:  Uhhh…um…what was the question?

Sean Price:  I know what he gotta work on:  during the interview when you asking him a question, he shouldn’t be taking so long to answer ‘cause he forgets the question.  That definitely needs to be worked on!  Can’t be giving y’all niggas an essay for an answer!

Rockness Monster:  ‘Cause I really want these motherfuckas to understand what I be saying.  Sometimes when you answer the question short and sweet, it just leads to another question real quick.  But I still need to work on that.  I’m taking up too much time.

Sean Price:  That’s his final answer!

 

6.  Here’s a scenario: tomorrow you become the CEO of a major record label.  What are the first three things you do as boss?

Sean Price:  I would sign Black Rob.  That would be my first thing of duty.  I would sign Black Rob—I heard he’s home, out of jail.  That would be the first mission. 

Rockness:  Maaaan, if I ran a label and my first project ain’t mine, it’s gon’ be one of my motherfuckin’ brothers or one of the projects I’m already working on.  I’m sitting on a lot of heat.  I got enough heat to bring New York back by myself. 

Sean Price:  I wouldn’t sign none of my friends ‘cause they my friends.   ‘Cause when the business side ain’t acting right, they’d wanna come up there and act up.   My friends—no!  They barely read.

Rockness Monster:  Some of my friends be hip to all of that.   Them niggas be knowing things.  And there happens to be such things as an artist-friendly deal. 

Sean Price:  I would make sure I get a lot of money out of the deal.  They would have a 1984 rap contract, namean?  They’d be like, ‘Ruck that’s fucked up!  Ruck giving out 1985 contracts!’  And a lot of them motherfuckers get love  today.  They would cry but love me later. 

 

7.   What are some of your favorite albums?

Sean Price:  Muddy Waters is that shit.  And definitely the Purple Tape (Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx) ‘cause when I was writing Nocturnal, the Purple Tape came out.  And I was like ‘Damn man, I gotta write some more shit!’  So definitely the Purple Tape.

Rockness Monster:  It Was Written.  Niggaz4Life. 

Sean Price:  Supreme Clientele!

Rockness Monster:  Doggystyle.  That was one of the best fucking albums ever!   Pun’s first album.  That shit was stupid. 

Sean Price:  Reasonable Doubt!  Jay was on Priority Records and we had a deal with Priority at the time and I had an advanced copy and was like ‘Wow, this motherfucka is something to be reckoned with.  He’s taking this fuckin’ serious!’ 

Rockness Monster:  Reasonable Doubt and The Black Album—his most incredible work. 

 

8.  What is inspiring your work right now?

Sean Price:  My life, man.  I been inspired just being on the road lately.

Rockness Monster:  Everything that make it through the windows, through my eyes, it works through a process and it may show up.  It may show up as the opposite of what I actually saw, it may show up exactly as I saw, but everything I’m seeing is influencing what I’m thinking and what I’m thinking is influencing what I’m writing. 

 

9.  What advice would you give someone getting into the business at this time?

Sean Price:  Laughs outloud hysterically  Be a lawyer!  Don’t rap, man, ‘cause me and Rock got it smashed down.  That’s what I would tell anybody getting into the game. Don’t come into the game!  The Yankees is looking real bad right now so go with them.  We need good pitching, we ain’t got no pitching.

Rockness Monster:  We ever have any black pitchers on the Yankees?  All you rap niggas trying to get into the game, look: the Yankees pay better.  Be a motherfuckin’ pitcher, nigga.  It ain’t gon’ happen.  Get outta here!  Be a guard for the Knicks or something.

 

10. Any words to live by?

Sean Price:  Eazy-E said, “Niggas say nigga, what’s up.  Crackers say nigga, then you back the fuck up” namean?  Eazy-E said that, I live by that. 

Rockness Monster:  Ummm.  Damn, I gotta think of the whole rhyma and shit.   Oh, “Nah I’m not really, but he kept smiling in my face, facial expression looking silly.”  That’s on the Outkast shit.  

 

******

I want to give a HUGE thank you to Matt for hooking me up with Heltah Skeltah, which was my first ever phone interviewer.  Shoutouts to Sean P and Rockness for answering their phones and busting it up with me and for giving my Walkman some hot shit to bump through all these years.  And if you’re in Philly TONIGHT, make sure you catch Sean P and Ill Bill at the Northstar!!! 

Heltah Skeltah primer:

“Clans, Posses, Crews, and Cliks” from Nocturnal
http://www.zshare.net/audio/186149131519a315/ 

“Operation Lockdown” from Nocturnal
http://www.zshare.net/audio/18615008a6e1fc4b/

 “Worldwide (Rock the World)” from Magnum Force
http://www.zshare.net/audio/1861485146d7713c/ 

“I Ain’t Havin That” from Magnum Force
http://www.zshare.net/audio/186149399fa38f94/ 

“Art of Disrespekinzation” from D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team)
http://www.zshare.net/audio/178521018dfb28bf/ 

“Everything is Heltah Skeltah” from D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team)
http://www.zshare.net/audio/165165854dd359ce/ 

 

Classic….”Operation Lockdown” video

New classic….”Everything is Heltah Skeltah” video

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