January 23, 2002

MF Grimm

MF Grimm

A legendary lyricist from Manhattan, MF Grimm has been dropping intense street narratives since the early 1990s. Spitting show-stopping verses alongside Kurious, KMD, and Kool G Rap, Grimm was on the verge of mass success when he was shot ten times in 1993. Miraculously, he rose again, stunning skeptical doctors and keeping his name in the game, releasing several classic singles on Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em label. Last year, he and MF Doom released a double 12″ on Brick Records, and his long-awaited debut full-length The Downfall of Iblis: A Ghetto Opera is finally hitting the streets. Currently a guest of the state of New York, Grimm speaks out about his early influences, the ’93 World Supremacy Battle, life inside the belly of the beast, and his new album. Read and learn.

Brolin: What are your earliest memories of hip-hop?

MF Grimm: Being a little kid hanging out with an older person named “Sundance”; he was a friend of the family and also a member of Zulu Nation. He used to bring me to street jams and introduced me to Afrika Bambaataa. If it wasn’t for him and a DJ named Looie Loo from my block in Manhattan, I would not be in music today.

What was the first show that really got you open?

It was any show King Sun was doing or Kool G Rap because I was right there watching and learning.

Were you rhyming straight from the get-go? Did you ever get into DJing or breaking or doing graffiti?

My mom bought me a pair of turntables as a little kid. I love breaking but I grew up around some of the best breakdancers in the world, The Rock Steady Crew, and Looie Loo was the best DJ around so he helped me find my mark, which was lyrics. I represent Rock Steady Park in Manhattan.

Did you come up in a musical family? Were your folks supportive of you rhyming?

My mother keeps me updated on what’s going on in hip-hop. It’s funny because she talks about hip-hop and knows more about hip-hop than me. And I’m not joking; she talks to me about samples, beats, lyrics, who’s flows and rhyme styles are better, who’s original, who’s not.

Who were your biggest influences? People who really inspired you?

Quincy Jones, Russell Simmons, King Sun, Lord Finesse, Large Professor, Chuck D, Freddie Foxxx, Slick Rick, Rakim, Kool G Rap, Kurious, KMD.

What was your official debut?

Kurious “A Constipated Monkey” was the first song I was on.

How did you and Doom hook up? Were you guys always friends?

We met when we were teenagers, he was hanging out with Kurious. It feels like we’ve known each other forever.

You placed 2nd in the World Supremacy Battle in ’93. What was that like? Who did you take out in the earlier rounds? Do you feel like you should’ve won?

Actually, Mad Skillz placed 2nd in the World Supremacy Battle in ’93. I lost to Supernatural, who placed 1st. I lost to him in the championship rounds so third is appropriate. Puff Daddy was one of the judges, so you should ask him. I remember I said “I would battle the judges” in one of my rhymes and when I said that he had this real shocked look on his face like “who me?” and I’m looking at him like “yeah you!!” So I was expecting to lose the next round against whoever I was going against because of the disrespect I showed the judges. When I went against Supernatural the rounds was changed from two 90-second rounds to one 60-second round. So this means to me whoever rhymes first loses. Clark Kent said I had to go first, knowing that I chose to kick a rhyme to the crowd, I didn’t even look at Supernatural. I rhymed to the crowd to “remember my name because I’m going to be successful one day at this shit.” Supernatural’s rhyme attacked me and he won. If it was two 90-second rounds instead of one 60-second round I would’ve won…..

I’ll never forget that day because earlier that day I was in a shoot-out, my gun was still warm at my waist while I was battling Supernatural. I came from the streets, so I spoke with street anger. That was my only reason of being there; to let it be known that the streets had talent out there. All I wanted to do was get a better life for the brothers who were in the street with me, but I failed them. Because the ones I’m talking about are all dead now, they were all killed, that’s the story of my life. The Battle of World Supremacy haunts me because I feel if I would’ve won, I would’ve secured a record deal and all the people I’m talking about would be alive today. Everyone who knew me in there knew the shit I was kicking was real and I meant the shit, I wasn’t there to “entertain the crowd” like the other emcees, I was there to spit fire with energy about a life I pray many would never have to go through, but would be appreciated once I transformed it into poetry. I was wrong…Puff Daddy and the other judges didn’t want to hear that shit.

Is it true Kurious is gonna be on your new record?

Kurious is very busy working on his album and he’s touring with MF Doom; so I hope so, but if not he’ll be on a remix and my next album.

What do you think about rappers who can’t or don’t freestyle? Do you think that’s a necessary part of being an emcee or just extra skills?

I feel freestyle (off the top) is a gift and a style in itself and I love it, but I do get upset when I hear emcees talk about people who “write” rhymes like they are wack. Many of our ancestors were murdered for trying to learn how to read and write. I’m telling the young readers that freestyle, that’s great but write also, it will only make you a stronger emcee.

Your tracks on 4, 5, 6 are really hot, how did that come about and what was it like working with Kool G Rap?

G Rap is like family, so it came easy. Everyone kicked a verse and I came up with the choruses for both songs. I learned a lot from G Rap, he showed me that you can feed your family with hip-hop. Without G Rap I would’ve been dead a long time ago. I probably wouldn’t have even seen my full teenage years. I owe him a lot. G Rap is the king of hardcore lyrical hip-hop and I’m the heir to the throne. Period.

What’s up with the Monster Island Czars? Is there an MIC album in progress?

The MIC album is completed and will be released shortly.

A lot of your tracks seem pretty autobiographical, do you prefer to write from your own perspective or ever mess around with any made-up concept stories?

I prefer to write from my own perspective.

Do you get the chance to listen to tunes where you’re at?

Yes, from cassettes and the radio station in Buffalo (WBLK).

Are you able to do any recording there? (a la Lifer’s Group or X-Raided)?

No, I can’t record. That’s the worst part of this incarceration.

Do you get any extra props or hassles because you’re a rapper?

I would have to say props, because people show me nothing but love, but the old-timers express their disappointment with me being incarcerated because of my potential and how I can use it to help others. They have high expectations for me. I’m around people like Jerry “The Jew” Rosenberg. He has been in prison since 1963. You do the math. It’s going on 2002 man, I’m around people with 1974, 1979 numbers. People who were in prison before I was born, I’m still trying to explain to them what a pager and cell phone is. I listen to them, they have wisdom beyond my understanding.

How do you keep your spirits up? Are you writing a lot? Do you get to see visitors?

I keep my spirits up (by) playing chess. Also, I’m the representative for “The Quality of Life Meetings.” My responsibility is to have monthly meetings with the superintendent and the head of security and medical positions and fight for the rights of my fellow prisoners and express their complaints to the facility officials.

Last year there was a big “hip-hop summit” where a bunch of big-name artists and industry guys got together and talked about trying to encourage more positivity in lyrics and tone down the blatant violence, drugs, sex, etc. in songs and in videos. Do you think that’s a good idea or misguided self-censorship or just a lot of talk?

I think that’s a good idea. Positivity is a beautiful thing.

What’s the story behind Day By Day? When did you start that and how did it come about?

I really have to say Russell Simmons. I always admired him so I started my own company. Also, being paralyzed, every label turned me away because they said they couldn’t “market me.” It was created in the late 90’s, but I would still love to play my music for Russell Simmons. That would be a personal accomplishment for me.

The Piece Of The Action compilation is really good. When is the second one dropping and are you guys gonna release any straight-up albums or singles?

D.J. Fisher is responsible for all success of Piece of the Action and Day By Day Entertainment. D.J. and our partner Gene also run our distribution company Boiling Point. The first album will be The Downfall of Iblis: A Ghetto Opera which is a collaboration between Day By Day and Metalface Records. So the product is created by us, also marketed and promoted by us. We are a well self-contained unit. I would be lost without D.J. Fisher, he can easily run any major company. I’m thankful he’s part of Day By Day Entertainment, it’s like having Russell Simmons, Tommy Mottola, Donnie Inner and Clive Davis all rolled into one person.

I interviewed J-Zone a while ago and he gave you maaaad props. Said that you really helped him out and that’s you’re the “coolest cat in the business.” How did you two get together? Is he on your new record? Have you heard his new album?

J-Zone is my favorite emcee. He makes music fun for me again, something I thought I’d lost forever. We met through producer Eli Escobar, (he produced a track for The Downfall of Iblis). No, I didn’t hear the album but I know it’s great. He’s a gifted young man.

These days it’s cool to be a tough guy. A lot of fake-thug rappers like to talk shit and brag about crimes they never done and time they never served. What do you think about people who front like they’re hardcore but are really just making stuff up?

To each his own, but if you never been to jail or never committed a crime be happy and rhyme about that. There are people in here that will “never” see the streets again. You don’t know “tough” until you come to prison and trust me, every tough guy in prison wants to go home and they are looking at those who glorify prison and being tough as assholes for not speaking the truth.

Hip-hop is everywhere now. All kinds of commercials, movies, TV, etc. As somebody who really came up at the same time, and has been down from the jump, did you ever think it would become such a huge industry?


What was the last album you heard that really got you psyched?

The Best of Charlie Parker.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, from any genre, who would it be?

Ghostface Killah.

I heard a track with you, Kool G, and Akinyele rapping about safe sex. When was that recorded and for who? That’s a really hot beat.

I can’t remember but the track was made by Doctor Butcher. Ask D.J. Fisher, he knows.

A lot of rappers have a whole empire of other businesses now, clothes, movies, or whatever. Have you ever thought about getting into acting/directing or fashion stuff?

I’m interested in screenwriting. There is a gifted young filmmaker named Adam Lough, he just graduated from NYU. You should hook up with D.J. Fisher and interview him. His work is on point. All MF Grimm video will be done by him. Adam is going to the top. Besides that I want to build a school and a hospital for children.

“Tick Tick” got a really big response. How did that track come together?

Doom came over with the track and said “spit fire.” Simple and plain, I don’t argue with Doom, he’s the boss.

What do you think of the recent “computerization” of music? The whole MP3 and Napster thing? Do you think that helps artists or hurts them?

I really don’t know, it’s not good to speak about things you’re not sure about.

Outside of hip-hop, who are some of your favorite musicians?

John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Johann Sebastian Bach, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Kelis.

After so many years in the game, you must be psyched to get this record out. What can we expect from the new album? And what does Downfall Of Iblis mean?

I think it’s bad to tell people what to expect. Everyone has a different level of expectation. Some will like it, some will feel my work is a piece of shit, but both forms of criticism are appreciated. I accept both with open arms. There are so many people who are in the graveyard who never had the chance to display their talent. As for the name, in the holy Qur’an, the angel Iblis (Satan) was expelled from paradise because he wouldn’t bow down to Adam when Allah told him to. Because Iblis felt he was better than man; and like Iblis I too felt I was better than all men and I would feed off sin. So like Iblis I fell from grace, so “The Downfall of Iblis” is an abstract way of saying “The Downfall of Percy Carey.”

What about The Lost Files? When will that be coming out and what’s gonna be on it?

Lost Files are all the songs created that never was heard by the public because the reels were stolen when I was shot and everyone thought I was dead.

Do you have a personal favorite track you’ve recorded?

Yes on The Downfall of Iblis my favorite is “Messing With Life And Death.” The name speaks for itself.

Name five of your all-time favorite hip-hop songs.

“What A Niggy Know” (remix) – KMD
“Take “Em To War” – Kool G Rap
“Baby Bus It” – Kurious
“Money On My Brain” – Kool G Rap
“Tick Tick” – MF Doom

To the many thousands of kids worldwide who want to be rappers, what advice would you give them?

Learn the business first, speak the truth, treat everyone with respect. Have fun while you’re young.

Any last words of wisdom?

Teach the babies to love each other, we are all the same.