Words by Seve Chambers (@SeveChambers)
The sense of history is undeniable inside of the new DITC studios. The Bronx hip-hop collective —comprised of Showbiz & A.G., Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, O.C., Buckwild, and Big L–helped define the sound of New York hip-hop in the 1990s. Now they will have a new home to both celebrate their past accomplishments while adding new classics to the resume.
A few weeks before the official opening, A.G. is holding court discussing one of DITC’s seminal releases, his group’s second album Goodfellas. May 30th marked 20 years since it was officially released to the public and his memories of it are much like the studio: shiny in places like the plaques on the wall, a little fuzzy in others like the unfinished panels, but still solid all around. His recollections hover around fallen soldiers Party Arty and Roc Raida, who transitioned in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The main room, which will officially be called the Big L room, has an image of the late member on the vocal booth wall padding. The spirit of hip-hop is literally infused in the structure.
In an era when many rappers were changing their image to appeal to the streets, Showbiz (later just Show) and Andre the Giant were already in that zone, representing the gritty birthplace of hip-hop from their first recording. The two members of the DITC crew first debuted with their Soul Clap EP in 1991, which lead to the highly praised ‘92 album Runaway Slave. With the buzz they had built, they returned to the scene with their hard-hitting sophomore release on Payday Records. It may have seemed like they were following the New York landscape that was altered by the Wu-Tang Clan’s rugged style in ‘93. But chasing trends was not something they aimed to do. The darker sound and feel of the album was meant to showcase the range of skill they possessed.
Both Showbiz and A.G. are working on new projects, and released two free albums collectively in 2012, but took a moment with WathchLOUD to reflect on their hard to find sophomore album.
The album name:
AG: So Goodfellas is the name of my crew from my building I grew up in Patterson Projects. That’s all my homeboys. It wasn’t no gang, it wasn’t no mob shit. It was just a bunch of people from the same neighborhood, and we called ourselves Goodfellas. So it was only right when I asked Show ‘yo can we name the album Goodfellas?’ He was like ‘I think that’s perfect,’ cause he knows that’s what represents me.
The album had nothing to do with the movie. But if you look at it, the wording at the bottom was kinda movie-ish. On the Goodfellas album. The art department connected that, I guess. My brother actually did the logo.
The direction the duo took around this time:
AG: This album was different from the first because Show is not rhyming. We decided, or he decided he wasn’t gonna rhyme on this album. He was just gonna focus on the production. So the preparation for this album was different from Runaway Slave. Runaway Slave was a collaborative vocal effort. A lot of songs I really follow Show’s lead. If you listen to 40 Acres & My Props and Fat Pockets, I kind of follow where he was going with the song. But in Goodfellas Show didn’t rhyme on Goodfellas, so a lot of that was trying to find a new niche for us. Just an emcee and a producer.
Showbiz: We started off in a way where he was the emcee and I was the producer. So I didn’t wanna kind of step on his toes. And the other thing is that I’m at peace doing beats. That’s what I like to do more than rhyming. I see a lot of guys that sit back and take days and months to write rhymes. And I wasn’t doing it, so I didn’t want to half step on it. I just wanted to stick to what I know and love to do all the time, and it’s do music. So I like to stay to that more than anything else.
“Never Less Than Ill,” and kicking off the album with saying ‘No longer on the low’ twice:
AG: I’ve been rapping my whole life. Show’s been doing this music his whole life. So there’s a big journey before people are actually introduced to us. There’s a longer journey than people are aware of. So even though we were getting recognition and our music was on Billboard and charts, I’ve always been doing this. But it’s just been on a low.
Also if you look at the first album, it’s something we put out ourselves because we weren’t really into entertaining our music to record labels and them declining what we have. So that’s another thing as well. We did try to put this out, try to sign to major labels. But at some point we stopped and said no longer will we try to do that. We’ll just put it out ourselves. So “Never Less Than Ill” is really talking about us. We here now, we made it, we’re very talented. And we want people to know it’s not like a secret. It’s not low anymore. We here.
The Ghetto Dwellas (Party Arty and D-Flow):
AG: They always lived in my neighborhood. I always knew them, but they had their talent under wraps for a while until somebody, a mutual friend was like ‘yo I think you need to hear them.’ I would be around them a lot and never knew they rapped, and when I first heard them I’m like this is incredible. How did you get this good without me hearing you? And I’m in the same neighborhood. So from then on it was like anything I can do to help these guys get heard, imma do.
AG: That’s my little brother. He was rhyming around the same time. It was like Show let me, the second album he knew what was around me, you know what I’m saying? “Rock with your peoples, Imma do these beats. You come up with what you come up with, and we make it work.”
The album’s darker sound compared to Runaway Slave:
AG: I think all artists are influenced by time, and the time they’re in and their counterparts. No artist is immune to that. Usually when you listen to Show & A.G. albums, when you hear what we made, the industry was probably doing something else. So when everybody was on their gangsta shit, we came out with a conscious album called Runaway Slave. Then everybody got on that conscious shit, and we came out with a dark album called Goodfellas. That’s basically what happened.
Don’t get me wrong. The music was just darker because of the emcee element involved. We didn’t make this album because we were in bad moods and it came out dark, or we were going through some shit and it came out dark. No. It just happened to be a darker album because I wanted to show I was in the streets, rapping. I did battles, videos with my crew. We wanted to put that on wax. We wanted to put that particular, what we were doing in the music. When I say darker, I’m only talking about the sound.
Showbiz: It just was different than with Runaway Slave was. I believe it was much more dark. Dark music you know, and that’s probably because those were the records I was getting into at the time. Those dark type of samples. Cause music doesn’t stay the same for me. Like one month I may feel like I can rock some jazz records. And then the next month some soul. And then it depends on where I’m at with it at the time. And if it’s in the project and I’m working on that project, I’m using those sounds at that time and that’s what happened with Goodfellas.
On A.G. as the main emcee on Goodfellas:
AG: I think consciously and unconsciously I just wanted to rap on that album. I’m just this, inside I’m this raw emcee that just wants to spit bars. And I think Goodfellas allowed me the platform to do that. This was me trying to say Imma hold this shit down with these rhymes. I gotta prove that to me right now. I loved LL Cool J, Rakim, KRS One, Kool G Rap. I didn’t hear features on they albums like that. So in my book I gotta be able to do that to consider myself that. I still have features with my crew and shit on it. But for the majority of the album that’s me with them three verses and the hook, and that was something that needed to be done.
I write what comes to me, what the music says to me. What I like, and that’s it. A lot of artists might tell you this is rocket science and all. I don’t. I go with my heart, and my heart tells me which music I like. And whatever comes out, comes out. I don’t really care about hooks, things of that nature. That’s why Show and A.G. is a perfect combo. That’s what he specializes in. That’s what he’s a perfectionist with. So to come together makes it perfect, you know what I’m saying?