Kool Keith & Ced Gee Remember The Prodigy’s Keith Flint & The Hit They Made Together
On March 4, Keith Flint of the Electronic music group, The Prodigy, was found dead in his Essex, England home. Tragically, the 49-year-old took his life just one month after his final performance with the group.
The British collective crossed over into the mainstream upon the release of their third studio album, 1997’s The Fat Of The Land. The Prodigy made waves with the album’s singles, “Firestarter” and “Breathe,” both reaching #1 on the UK charts. Eventually, the band’s third single from the project, “Smack My B*tch Up,” found its way to the charts with an alley-oop from a nod to Hip-Hop innovators, the Ultramagnetic MCs.
Ced Gee, TR Love, Mo Love, and Kool Keith Thornton are all listed alongside Howlett as songwriters on the 1997 Dance hit. The chorus vocals placed on the multi-platinum record are sampled from Critical Beatdown‘s “Give The Drummer Some.” In an interview with HipHopDX contributor Dana Scott, Kool Keith and Ced also explain how the recognition and paycheck from another genre came at a really important time in their personal lives.
Keith remembers The Prodigy approaching him. “They had called me up. Liam [Howlett] was a great friend anyway.” Howlett co-founded The Prodigy with Maxim Reality, Leeroy Thornhill, and Flint, who served as dancer and vocalist.
Ced Gee follows, “Let me tell you how he got his number. What happened was they were working with the president of Next Plateau, Eddie O’ Loughlin, at the time. He cleared the sample. So Eddie said, ‘Why don’t you just do it fresh with Keith?’ Because I was working at Next Plateau at the time as the head of A&R and we gave them Keith’s number, and that’s how the reach out became. That’s how they started working together.” Next Plateau, who put out Critical Beatdown, had also worked closely with Salt-N-Pepa, Paperboy, and Antoinette, in addition to a roster of Dance acts.
Kool Keith explains how friendship transcended collaboration. “I did shows with [The Prodigy] when the record [The Fat Of The Land] came out. I did one or two shows with them. One of them in New York and another, I think, in Melbourne, Australia. I was backstage with them and [Keith Flint] was a cool person. They had a lot of champagne, a lot of girls and cool Electronic music. That was a nice tour out there with them. And for the first time, it was good that I had real fun with those guys.”
Later, Kool and Ced talk about other records The Prodigy used their lyrics for, and the compensation they received for “Smack My B*tch Up.”
Kool also recalls how the 1997 hit, for which he and Ced received platinum plaques, led to more work. “They had another album [Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned] with the big lips on it where they sampled our stuff, too.” Those compositions included “Wake Up Call” and “You’ll Be Under My Wheels.” As Scott points out, Keith’s “Critical Breakdown” vocal (“I’ll take your brain to another dimension / Pay close attention“) was sampled for The Prodigy’s 1992 single, “Out of Space.”
Ced Gee, recognized for his revolutionary sample techniques, said the re-purposed music was a blessing. “I was under a levy from the IRS at that time. The ‘Smack My B*tch Up’ sample paid off the levy which was about $100,000. After it was over and all corrected, I still had $18,000. That’s how sweet that was. [Laughs] I got that, so imagine what [others] made.”
Keith expounds, “I never had to run around to chase that money, and I was provided for well. And I hope that band didn’t break up, but Keith was such an important person as the lead singer in the band. That’s like Michael Jackson in Jackson 5, Kurt Cobain [in Nirvana], so it’s kind of hard.” Recently, Lord Finesse, another Bronx O.G. whose vocal was used by British Electronic star Fatboy Slim, says he regrets the terms of licensing his material. That appears not to be the case for Ced and Keith. In the late ’90s, Keith was battling against Ruffhouse/Sony Records to release his Black Elvis album, which he discusses at length in the interview.
Outside of remembering Flint and Prodigy, Kool Keith unveils an upcoming release of a new album he recorded with one of The Beatnuts. “I just did an album with Psycho Les that’s coming out. I got Paul Wall, Jeru The Damaja, Erick Sermon and B-Real from Cypress Hill on it. The two Ultramag’ co-founders also confirm upcoming work together.
#BonusBeat: Ultramagnetic MCs’ “Give The Drummer Some”: