(Written by Eso Tre: one-half of Los Angeles Hip Hop duo, Substance Abuse. Check them out!)

If you are a true Hip Hop fan, chances are, you know of the legendary NY-based underground rapper, Percee P. Gaining notoriety in the underground scene thanks to years of success and perseverance, as well as legendary battles with Fat Joe, Eminem, and Lord Finesse (among many others), Percee P is one of the innovators and originators of today’s DIY Hip Hop scene. Read a fantastic interview by Substance Abuse’s Eso Tre, and learn a little about the origin of old-school Hip Hop: Underground style!

Eso: What was it like growing up in the Bronx in the 70’s and 80’s?

Percee: It was fun growing up in the Bronx but scary at the same time. It was the era of gangs when pretty much anything could pop off. They had the same mentality and gang codes as people out here on the West Coast but it wasn’t about red and blue.

If you google the South Bronx it’s the poorest congressional district in the nation.  There was a lot of poverty and people living below wages that would allow for survival.  With that kind of environment comes desperation, people getting caught up in drugs and prostitution.  I saw a lot of bad things but I tried to do something positive.

I got into hip hop by watching my oldest brother and my uncle Jessie, who went by the name DJ Coolie Breeze.  My uncle was in a group with T La Rock called “Undefeated Force”.  Those were the people that inspired me.  I remember looking out my bedroom window and seeing the jams in 18 park, the biggest park in Patterson Projects.  I would go across the bridge to Harlem to Mike and Dave’s parties and to 201, a school where they threw jams in the cafeteria.  I remember seeing EPMD right when they first came out perform at 201 and place called Rooftop the same night. Those were the days when people would say “how long you been rockin’for?” when they heard that you rhymed.  I really miss the innocence of those times.

Eso: What were your biggest influences growing up?

Percee: Fearless 4, T La Rock, Treacherous 3, Cold Crush, Furious 5,and Force MC’s, who later became known as the Force MD’s.  I caught onto some of the West Coast stuff later on.  I remember when I first bought a N.W.A. tape.  I thought it was different because you were hearing cursing.  They talked about stuff that a lot of people weren’t talking about.  You might have a heard a few lines like that on a song here and there, but no one ever put out a whole album like that.  Of course, there were also people like Schooly D, who never gets credit for being one of the originators of gangster rap.  He had that song “P.S.K.” that stands for “Park Side Killers”.  He was talking about alot of the same things N.W.A. was talking about.

Eso: You’ve been heavily immersed in both the NY and LA hip hop scenes.  What do you find similar and different about the two regions in terms of what people see as good music?

Percee: Both have underground clubs where people can see up and coming artists, places you can perform even if you don’t have a record deal. When I would go to hip hop clubs in New York, it seemed like girls would always show up with their boyfriends.  In L.A. it’s different, ‘cause women will come with their homegirls to see someone rock at a spot like The Airliner when they could have been at some trendy club in Hollywood.   They really appreciate hip hop.  I’ll see a lot of different cultures represented at the hip hop clubs in L.A. and throughout the West Coast.  You see how strong the hip hop tradition is out here with events like “Rock the Bells” and “Paid Dues”.

Eso: That YouTube video with you and Lord Finesse trading verses has garnered much acclaim.  Tell us a little bit about the audio tape and the eventual release of the video footage?

Percee: I used to go on Stretch and Bobbito’s show right when they started, which is how I ended up getting signed to Big Beat.  I was a regular part of their show for a while but I eventually got tired of going down there because their time slot was from 1 to 5 in themorning, so I would just give them tapes to play and that’s how the battle with me and Finesse eventually got out there.  That’s where Edan probably got it from.  He put it at the end of a tape called“Fast Rap” and exposed it to a new generation of people.

This guy Koji who used to buy tapes from me in front of Fat Beats put me in touch with his roommate, Jun Ohki, who at the time was working on the SBX! Holding Down The Tradition movie, which was originally supposed to be a project for school.  I told Jun that the battle between me and Finesse was on a video, but I didn’t have it.  I just gave him the names of people to ask for in the projects and I guess money talks, because he was able to get an uncut, real copy of the battle.  That’s how I ended up seeing it for the first time in years.  If you watch SBX! Holding Down The Tradition you see footage of how me and Finesse reacted to seeing the battle after so long.

Eso: Speaking of Lord Finesse, the first time I heard you was on “Return of the Funky Man”, still one of my favorite albums of all-time.  Before your first album dropped it seemed like you had already achieved legendary status in hip hop circles.  Where you aware of the notoriety you achieved before you dropped your first full length?

Percee: I didn’t make a large body of work but I always worked with the right people.  People have told me they’ve heard me on tapes or they knew about the rhyme of the month quotable I had in The Source from ’92.  Stories had circulated about me throughout New York.  WhatI didn’t know was how many people on the West Coast knew about me, because at the time I didn’t have a label.  I was like the rapper from Lochness: people heard of me but had never seen me.  But I kept pushing my tapes hard which boosted my notoriety on the internet and otherwise, and I’m still doing that.

Eso: I’ve been told that in order to make it in today’s music business, you have to have a gimmick or rely on shock value to get people’s attention.  What do you think about the idea that just “being good” is not enough to be successful as an emcee?

Percee: I always felt I should just rely on my talent and stay gimmick-free.  I think how people fall off is by following trends.  Hip hop used to be about being a trend setter, not being a trend follower.  I show up at hip hop events to show I still have love for the culture. Some people might look down on the fact that you are still pushing tapes, but there are also people that respect that, because there’s something personal about being able to say, “I bought this tape fromPercee P.”

Old school rap didn’t rely on gimmicks and will live on, even though it doesn’t get the radio play.  The 90’s had better rappers than what’s being pushed now.  Even in the 80’s you had styles ranging from De La Soul to the Geto Boys and people weren’t afraid to be different, but that’s not the same as using shock value to sell records.

Eso: You seem like someone who has adapted to the times in terms of marketing and promoting yourself.  What would you say to people who argue that technology has hurt the music industry?

Percee: Technology has both helped and hurt the music industry.YouTube has helped in the sense that before when you heard about rappers, it was all talk.  Now seeing is believing, you can actually go on YouTube and see rappers that you’ve been hearing about with your own eyes.  You can look in the comments section and see what some kid in Scandinavia thinks about your flow.  But it has also hurt music in the sense that people don’t try to push themselves as hard.

Whereas people used to push themselves as house parties or ciphers, it seems like now with YouTube, people found an easy way.  I used to sell tapes and put my name and pager number on the back.  That’s how people started to hear about me.  Going out to shows and networking is how I met people like Cut Chemist, who eventually introduced me to the rest of Jurassic 5.  These were guys who had achieved mainstream success but respected someone who was out there pushing his material on the streets.  They were on the same label as Eminem and could have easily put him on their record, but they chose to go against the grain and put me and Big Daddy Kane on their album instead.

Eso: Is the forecast that real hip hop will make a resurgence just wishful thinking or is there some merit to the idea that things will come full circle?

Percee: I wish true hip hop would become mainstream, then people like myself would get the notoriety they deserve.  But the mainstream audience has a short attention span.  The underground-heads stay with you, which is how people like Kool Keith survive in the industry, by keeping a loyal fan base.  I believe in that and I think the real shit is going to come back because now young kids are like “I ain’t with the bullshit that you are trying to push on me.”  I met a lady recently who told me “my son said you’re not as well known as some other rappers but that’s what’s cool about you.”

Eso: What upcoming projects are you working on?

Percee: An upcoming album with Diamond D.  I haven’t started recording yet, but will do it in Atlanta where Diamond D lives now so nothing gets leaked from recording at too many places.  Also, we can build off each other’s input in the studio sessions which is pretty much missing nowadays.


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