Big Daddy Kane Details Recording This 1988 Mixtape Collabo With JAY-Z (Video)
Big Daddy Kane and DJ Mister Cee have been performing and recording together for more than 30 years. The two Brooklyn, New York natives appear together on Funkmaster Flex’s I Got A Story To Tell series. For more than an hour, one of the greatest MCs of all time revisits moments from his career between 1985 and 1993. In doing so, he reveals some information that Hip-Hop Heads will appreciate. Cee provides some interesting insights to his onetime HOT 97 colleague about the early days of Biggie Smalls, imperfect scratches on hit records, and more.
Kane discusses some lesser-known things including his run as Roxanne Shanté’s DJ (including the scratches on single, “Go On Girl”), “The Symphony” being born out of his and Kool G Rap’s WBLS radio promo drop for Mr. Magic and Marley Marl, and 45 King’s un-credited “Set It Off” production being first intended for Biz Markie and a (slightly altered) Public Enemy remix before he took it.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview comes around 46:00, where Big Daddy Kane goes into his history with JAY-Z. While King Asiatic supplied JAY-Z with his first televised guest appearance on a 1990 Rap City episode and later put a pre-Roc-A-Fella Records MC on 1994’s “Show & Prove” (alongside Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Shyheim Da Rugged Child, and Sauce Money), it is not their first collaboration. Notably, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the two Brooklyn lyricists sharing the mic on wax—or in their case, cassette tape.
Flex asks Kane about when and how he met Jay. “That had to have been ’88, ’cause I think one of the verses that I said on that mixtape was the verse that I used on ‘The Symphony,'” Kane begins, looking to Mister Cee, who concurs. “You remember the Shirt Kings in Queens? Okay, Knight from Shirt Kings asked me about doing a mixtape with Fresh Gordon with Jaz,” Kane says, referring to one of Jay’s other mentors, Jaz-O aka The Big Jaz. Kane explains that the mixtape was a produced cassette tape that was dubbed and sold. At the time, Fresh Gordon was a Tommy Boy Records artist who had featured Jaz (as “The Jazz”) on late ’80s releases with the storied label.
“Gordy had joints goin’ through the hood. I’ll keep it 100 with you: Jaz was probably the hottest unknown artist in Brooklyn. That’s the status that I wanted. This dude Gordy, around the corner from me, is doin’ stuff with a cat from Marcy [Houses]…When we did [the mixtape], yes, I had music [out]. But I’m goin’ back. Jaz [had] been poppin’ since like ’84, ’85, when he [earned his] name in the streets. [Fresh Gordon was a] dude from around the corner [that] rocked with a cat from Marcy, so when they asked me, I’m like, ‘Okay, we’ll do this here if we battle. Let it be a battle.'” Kane admits that he felt a competitive streak towards Jaz-O, who came from the Marcy projects, while he and Fresh Gordon were Bedford Stuyvesant products. “That’s what I was told, ’til I got there. Then Gordy tells me, ‘Nah, we not gonna do a battle, we just gonna do a [collaboration].”
Kane continues, “Who knows, maybe Jaz did want to [battle]. This is Gordy sayin’, ‘Nah, we don’t wanna do that; we just want y’all to rhyme.’ So it ended up bein’ just us rhymin’. The only thing Jaz said to me was, ‘Yo, can my man rhyme on it too?’ This is Jay. So we did this here tape.” Flex and Kane discuss the MC’s original, competition-driven intentions. “At that time, I’m Big Daddy Kane, so I’m that dude. But before that—’84, ’85, I was jealous of the fact that he was more poppin’ in Brooklyn than me. Neither one of us had deals, but he was more [popular]. It took a long time, but we here now [in 1988], let’s do it [and battle].”
Kane says the ’88 track, which is embedded below, was recorded at Fresh Gordon’s home studio, around the corner from Kane’s then-Brooklyn residence. “After we finish [recording], that’s when Gordy and Knight from the Shirt Kings come to me, and they say, ‘Yo, we’re trying to get Jaz a new deal.'” Mister Cee interjects that Jaz was seeking a deal, period, as this was ahead of his EMI Records run. “Anyway, they was talkin’ about getting Jaz a deal and asked would I help to do this here. I said, ‘Yeah, I could do that. I got respect for Jaz; I can do that, but I’ma be honest with you: I like the light-skinned muh’f*cka better.’ So long story long, I end up connecting with Jay, and we start working. We was trying to record songs on him.”
Kane says that besides helping Shawn Carter with a demo, he saw another opportunity. “I did the [‘Feels Like Another One’] joint with Patti LaBelle. That was the first time I seen somebody leave the stage in the middle of a show and change outfits and then rock like another half an hour. So I’m like, ‘Oh, this is some crazy sh*t that Hip-Hop needs to see. So that’s when we started doin’ our shows where it would be like just me and female dancers on stage, my home-girls Finesse and Val, they’d be [on stage]. After I finish the first half [of the concert], I’d call out JAY-Z and Positive K and let them come out and freestyle while I go backstage and change clothes to the same outfits that [backup dancers/hype-men] Scoob [Luva] and Scrap [Luva] had and come back out and finish the show with Scoob and Scrap.”
Positive K, who like Jay, had made singles and appearances in the ’80s (including alongside MC Lyte), struck a Top 20 hit in 1992 with “I Got A Man.” Kane worked with him on his solo debut The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills. “At the same time it was Pos’, it was JAY-Z,” Kane recalls. “I had them on the road. Right there, in the middle of the show, [Mister] Cee would cut up [45 King’s] ‘Spread Love’ with [the] Ike & Tina Turner drums.” Cee would use the same break for the 1993 Madison Square freestyle featuring Kane, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Shyheim, and Scoob. Flex, who asks Kane and Cee about that moment to follow, would license the song for 1999’s The Tunnel album with the late Big Kap.
In 2012, Kane shared the bill with JAY-Z as the Roc Nation mogul performed eight nights at the Barclays Center. Last December, JAY-Z and Jaz-O reunited for a photograph on the 4:44 Tour after more than 15 years at odds.