Blognote: My love affair with Harlem dates back to 1989. One of the best movies that came out that year starred Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and the great Redd Foxx. After watching Harlem Nights, it left a lasting effect on me and what I aspired to be…. Black, Rich & Stylish! It told the story of African Americans that had to do what they had to do to beat the system. Being that my father was a hustler, gigolo, and sometimes gangster, I knew all to well how those stories came about. However, the intriguing thing about Harlem was, anything done out of that section of Manhattan, was done with class and style. It’s safe to even say that even their basketball teams could not fit into the NBA with their razzle dazzle showtime style of play.
This intrigue & affection carried over from the Harlem Renaissance, to the heroin epidemic in the 70’s with Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas. However there were three kids that would forever change my life and how I felt about that little section in Manhattan. Their names were Azie Faizon, Rich Porter and Alpo Martinez. When I saw their documentary in 2001, I immediately became drawn into the fact that these were teenage kids that were making millions of dollars with the flash to show for it. Not that I condone their choices or lifestyle….I’m just a sucker for amazing stories. (They also reminded of my older brother Tony who was also young, fly and getting it)
Here’s where the association comes in. Those three guys had an effect on Hip Hop that you wouldn’t believe, from the dookie ropes, the the Dapper Dan leather coats & suits, to riding in your car with the seat all the way back. More and more you started seeing rappers like Rakim and L.L. dressing like these 3 kids from the Upper Manhattan neighborhood and having an influence on urban culture in the late 80’s. Throw in the fact that, by chance I heard that they referenced their section of town as those kids from Uptown….well…. that’s what the teenage kids in my neighborhood with flash called themselves….Uptown (Forest Park, Columbus). So that made even more sense to soak up the culture for all it was worth. Which if you really know me, you know that’s where I get my entire DJ style from (Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Capri!!!)
The Blog: 1994. Philadelphia PA is my residence and the west coast was winning the waves in Hip Hop. But the east coast wasn’t going away in silence. Straight out the slums of Shaolin (Staten Island) was a band of brothers creating their own sub-culture of Hip Hop, while another notorious kid from Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn was getting groomed to carry the east coast on his back. In the midst of all that, two guys made the world pay attention to Harlem USA once again. Those voices belonged to the duo that called themselves Ill Al Skratch.
When you look at the video Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way), there is a distinct correlation to the videos theme and the backdrop to the movie Paid In Full. Ninja motorcycles, drop top E-classes, and leather jump suits set the tone of ghetto opulence, similar to the trends set by the three mayors of Harlem that I aforementioned. Add that to the fact they provided a hood anthem for the summer that any street soldier could call out in any city of the world, they would be forever stamped in the Hip Hop’s pages.
I had the honor of speaking to Al Skratch one half of the duo, to pinpoint what was going on in the world at the time of their release and how that success has played a part on where they are now. So without any more delay.. Al Skratch….
UW: When did you realize Where My Homies was a smash and how did that fare with national and international acceptance of the song?
AS: When you think about it, during that time, the theme of the song was in fact “Where my Homies?” The Hip Hop community referred to each other as “Homies” whether you were in New York, Atlanta or out in L.A. So once you have a phrase like that on a hook or a slogan, that kinda thing resonates universally. There are no boundaries or borders when your speaking to every hood every ghetto.
UW: When did you guys realize the single was a hit?
AS: WBLS was givin us crazy spins. Actually, Where my homies was a remix to a song called Creep Wit Me, and the label was pressing us to do a remix. So when we submitted the remix, that joint got a better response than the original, so we ran wit that. After that, we started hearing it in every car. Mr Cee (Big Daddy Kane fame) started playing it on his radio show along with DJ Premier and Funk Master Flex, and the demand just grew from there. But it was the DJ’s that broke the record long before radio got a hold of it.
UW: When we first saw the video, there was a striking resemblance to Big Ill and another Harlemite that eventually became a music mogul, do you know who I’m speaking of?
AS: Hahahaha yeah Ill was mistaken for Puffy a lot at the time. Consider this tho, we did a lot of show dates with Puffy & B.I.G. then, so that’s when it was really crazy in music. It was easy to mix up the two because they were both dark skin, curly hair wit a lot of swag..Hahaha. Big Ill is from Brooklyn by the way so it was inverted. Puffy & I were from the same borough in Harlem while Ill & B.I.G. were from Brooklyn….
UW:…….and whats funny is that your raspy voice and the banker visor wit the wig stickin out had us comparing your style to the Staten Island brother Method Man.
AS: Man Listen, just to be compared with Meth is an honor. I mean we’re from different boroughs but we’re still all from the same area, so we were just reppin for New York at the time. Wu came out before us, so the style was established already. But even though our styles were similar they were not the same. Wu has gone on to do some really big things, so even when I get that comparison I’m honored.
UW: So what was it like to be a rap group and work with the likes of Michael Jackson and Brian Mcknight who was on fire at that time?
AS: Understand this though Layne Luv, Yo! Brian Mcknight is still hot! Pause. I mean I’m still humbled by the experience of working with him. If you’ve ever been to one of his shows I guarantee you will not leave disappointed. He’s always been able to walk in a room and get respect. But when we were asked to do a joint with Michael Jackson that was unbelievable! We got a call from Charles Roane out of DC and at first we was like “What kind of song could we possibly be doing with Mike that would work?” but we didn’t second guess it, we just went with it and we would figure it out later. The song happened to be the “They Don’t Care About Us” remix, and it ended up being a very huge blessing for us.
UW: So Al are you still making music?
AS: Ill Al Skratch is still makin music, we’re still doing shows. This is the reason why I definitely wanted to do your show. We’re still active. And we do it for the people. Just like I get a great feeling when people I listened to back in the day still come to town and do shows. Cities across the globe still appreciate Ill Al Skratch for keeping it going. I’ll send you some exclusives to play on your radio show.
UW: Thank you brother. This is a personal question for me. What makes Harlem different from any other place in the world? From trend setting to some of the best entertainers being from there?
AS: A Harlem reputation goes back to the roaring 20’s man. The Harlem Renaissance. If you know your Harlem history, that’s where they got the name Sugar Hill. From West 155th Ave to 145thAve that was the capital of black affluence. Black doctors, entertainers If you were there, you made it. You had W.E.B Dubois, Duke Ellington, Rev Adam Clayton Powell, Langston Hughes and the list goes on of who lived in that hotbed of High Society Black Artistic Culture. Harlem represented what people of color aspired to be. That’s what started the trendsetting. Harlem was not one sided though, you had projects in Harlem as well. Kids growing up with holes in their jeans, but they still had the hope mentality of when I get some money, I’m going to be fresh. That’s the Harlem mentality. Never being caught of guard. Always being sharp mentally and looking fresh when the lights hit you. That mentality also was passed down to hip hop and the street stars you mentioned you were intrigued by. It’s not something we carry on our back or in our chest….Harlem is just who we are.
I will say this tho it’s not just about being fly….it’s about being unique.
UW: For my last question, what rapper or rappers do you like now and where do you see Hip Hop going?
AS: I like The 3 Lyricist…Cole, Kendrick…..and Big Sean. They still write lyrics not gimmicks. Well I like where it’s going now because you’re starting to see the demand for the architects of Hip Hop to come back out and do shows and make music. That’s why I don’t refer to rappers as old school or new school artists. We’re artists. Period. You don’t see any other genre of music with that classification. Hip Hop is hitting that stride like jazz, there will always be work to those that are true to the art form. I’m just happy that I am still able to play my part in a culture I love so much.