Stetsasonic’s Bobby Simmons Argues They Are The Only Hip-Hop Band (Audio)
Author and filmmaker Bonz Malone previously published a coffee-table book, Hip Hop Immortals. Inside the 2002 text, there is a historic, panoramic photo of Stetsasonic and The Roots in a line with their hands up. Together, these two Northeast acts (one famous since the mid-1980s, and the other from the mid-1990s) are two of the most recognized bands within the Hip-Hop genre. As instrumentation is as rich in Hip-Hop as it’s been in some time, thanks to Prophets Of Rage, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, and Common, Stet’s founding drummer Bobby Simmons opines on why his collective is “the only Hip-Hop band” to date. Moreover, he says The Roots understand just what he means, too.
Appearing on Peter Agoston’s The House List podcast, Bobby Simmons spoke for more than an hour. The Brooklyn, New Yorker chronicled the 1984 creation of his group, which also included Daddy-O, Prince Paul, Delite, Frukwan, Wise, and DBC (aka Da Bad Creator). At 11:30 in the interview, Bobby says, “Even today, in this age [Stetsasonic will] still do performances. But we don’t pick our performances, we kind of let the promoters pick [them] because we’re a band. We’re an actual live band…we don’t do track-dates. The last time we did a [touring] date was in 1987 [with Run-D.M.C.]. We were literally like, ‘If this is how we’re gonna have people identify us, then we’re going to have convince promoters [to treat us as a band]. Russell Simmons was our manager back then, [so] we didn’t have to ‘convince’ promoters [of much]. You wouldn’t ask [Questlove] to bring The Roots in and it’s just [Black] Thought. You would [want the whole band]. And The Roots is not really a…and I can tell you this without it really being any problem: The Roots [are] not a Hip-Hop band. They’re not. And even Quest’ will admit to that. [In interviews, he will say], ‘No, Stetsasonic is literally thee Hip-Hop band,’ and we appreciate it. We understand the history of the way Hip-Hop and Rap music was going before The Roots.” While Bobby appears not to be questioning The Roots crew’s abilities, it is about sound and layout. On the interlude on to 1988’s “This Is It, Y’all (Go Stetsa II),” the “Hip-Hop band” term was coined. “Even when they just came out, they actually were a band…that just had Thought as a rapper. We damn sure appreciate the work that they’ve done.”
At 17:00 Bobby elaborates further, as he details joining his Brooklyn, New York collective after touring with Natalie Cole. Upon his joining the group, Stet’ (who had previously used a Linn drum machine) played their first show (in this lineup) at The Latin Quarter.
“Newcleus and [others before us], they weren’t a Hip-Hop band; they were a bunch of musicians who rapped on their records. If I can say this real quick, and hopefully put this out to your podcast audience who listens… let me just make it clear what ‘The Hip-Hop band’ is: when you listen to [most] of our albums, you’ll realize that we used what we had to make the music. The On Fire album is literally no samples! The On Fire album is literally live drums, Paul scratching, guys rhyming, and Wise doing the beat-box. There’s no loops, no samples [besides what is scratched]. Drum programming was only on ‘My Rhyme’ and ‘Just Say Stet.’ Everything else was played live, and back then we used to use these [drum] pads.” “Nobody played guitar in our band. So how do we find a guitar? ‘Paul, find a guitar sound. Scratch it [as a rhythmic guitarist]. I’d drum, and DB’ would do the keys.”
In addition to his work with Stetsasonic, Bobby Simmons still tours with Freestyle hitmaker Shannon. In the podcast, he also reveals that he played drums on 1989 Red Hot Chili Peppers single (and Stevie Wonder cover) “Higher Ground.” Simmons later claims Stetsaonic predated Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest for its Jazz fusion too.
Stetsasonic has done spot dates in recent years, despite having not released an album since 1991’s Blood, Sweat, and No Tears.