45 King Recalls Early Days Of Queen Latifah & Jay Z, Reveals A Hit He Was Not Credited For (Audio)
In the canon of Hip-Hop producers, 45 King is among the most important. From break-beat compilations to remixes, seminal 1980s 12″ singles, to Grammy Award-winning hits, the New Jersey-based DJ/producer born Mark James has nearly 30 years of highly-influential digging, sampling, and arranging. Whether Queen Latifah, Gang Starr, Eminem, or Jay Z, 45 King is part of the movement.
Speaking with Shawn Setaro’s The Cipher Show, the original Flavor Unit founder spoke on a number of topics surrounding his career. Big on humor, anecdotes, and touches of humility, the New York City native tracked the movement of his career with Same Old Shawn.
(17:30) The Flavor Unit producer began talking about his beginnings, early beat releases, and his relationship with Manhattan-based Tuff City Records. One of those releases includes 1989’s Master Of The Game beats compilation, featuring a number of colorful 7″ record labels.
45 King’s answer is anything but typical. “You know what’s funny? People send me [my old album] covers, like I really wanna see ’em. Like, you wanna see your old girlfriend’s picture? You might not. People go, ‘Oh, he’s gonna [want to] see this old album cover; I’m gon’ send it to him.’ Okay, you like the album cover? Beautiful. You don’t have to send it to me. You can send it to everyone else in the world.”
(22:00) The interview moves to Latifah, who has since become the face of Flavor Unit: Queen Latifah. 45 King reveals that the introduction between he and his star pupil, came courtesy of Dana Owens’ mother, who hired Mark to DJ an event. Shawn asks the producer about the shout-outs that Lah’ gave him on her breakthrough singles. Jokingly, the producer reflects, “When you name the DJ, that’s less bars you’ve gotta write. You know it’s true! Sometimes she said my name twice. I’m playin’.” 45 also spoke about early TV appearances with Latifah, including a “Yo! MTV Raps” segment that Setaro plays. “I was lucky, that was fun.” 45 King adds that he can sense breakthrough talent today, even when watching television contest shows like “American Idol.” The producer adds that Big Daddy Kane, Treach, Jay Z, Busta Rhymes, Tupac, and members of New Kids On The Block had all visited his studio before breaking through. Asked specifically about N.K.O.T.B., 45 King says that the work he was paid for was never released. For the rarity lovers, the Jersey mainstay adds that he does not have any copies of the work.
As far as Big Daddy Kane, Setaro asks Kane about a rumor surrounding hit “Set It Off.” The 1988 Rap classic is credited to Marley Marl, but Kane has maintained that 45 King was involved. Pressed for further detail, Mark says, “I had the drum loop and another element to go with it. Basically, they had the same thing, and added some things to it. The person who gives the record to the [label] basically ends up bein’ the producer.”
On the other hand, looking at 1992’s Diamond D solo debut Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop, 45 King admits he was given too much credit for “Check One, Two.” “Diamond gives me more credit than maybe I deserve,” he claims, adding that his sample records were used, as well as his home studio. However, the DJ Red Alert onetime protege maintains that the D.I.T.C. producer/MC/DJ has those very records in his collection at the time.
(30:00) 45 King walks down memory lane in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He recalls teaming with Guru to produce two early Gang Starr singles. Mark reveals he was paid $600 to produce X-Clan hit, “Heed To The Word Of The Brother.” “Back then, that was a lot of money. I was really happy.” Additionally, 45 was unsure if he was even credited on some early pressings of Brother J’s group.
(40:00) 1990 would be a difficult year for Mark. Due to his drug use, the active producer/DJ says he was soon “black-balled.” “I started smokin’ dust, actin’ stupid, and that stuff stuck with me forever.” He elaborated, “I still have a dent in my name because of that.” Jokingly, Mark summarized, “Unless I make a movie with Kevin Hart, I always will.” The affiliate of Eric B. & Rakim adds that amidst the industry exile, Eric B. was one of the few people willing to work and adequately pay Mark.
(42:00) Asked about DJ Kool’s hit “Let Me Clear My Throat,” a strong club homage to 45 King’s “900 Number” beat, the outspoken producer said of the 1996 Top 40 American Records hit, “That didn’t effect shit.”
(49:00) One misnomer that 45 King puts to rest is that his hit (co-produced with Kid Capri) “Hard Knock Life” was the first time he worked with Jay Z. Notably, Jay had been to 45’s home studio with Jaz-O in late 1980s, recording the Brooklyn, New York’s EMI Records material. “He did the vocals, right there,” said 45, who conducted the interview with The Cipher Show in his home recording lab. Along with his subway turnstile, the producer famously records vocals is a re-purposed phone-booth. Asked if he believes Jay remembers that first encounter, 45 deduces, “I think you usually remember doin’ rhymes in a phone-booth!”
The last segment of the discussion moves into Eminem’s “Stan,” and how Foxy Brown’s brother had a major hand in getting the record to Em. Notably, Mark recalls interrupting his phone call with the D12 front-man shortly after, as well as reacting to Elton John’s live rendition with Marshall. In discussing his career, the often humble artist makes a powerful, lasting observation. “I never had a record that somebody put out, promoted, and shot the video—and did bad.”
Having produced in the last 15 years for Common, Eminem, and Rakim, who would you like to see or hear 45 King work with?