Growing up as a young kid just getting into Hip Hop, one of the first groups I discovered beyond my Beastie Boys and Run DMC land I was in, was Audio Two. I’ve been hammering my head trying to figure out when I first heard of them. I can’t say if it was “I Like Cherries” that appeared on The Audio Two/Alliance Flip Flop EP or it might had been Top Billin’ that I saw on Soul Train or something like that. I know when I first really got into them, I saw them as “up & coming” on the first episode of “Yo! MTV Raps”. Right after that appearance, I went out and bought “What More Can I Say” and I was sold on them ever since. I guess you can include the whole First Priority Family in that mix as I’ve dropped several posts highlighting my FPM “stan” status in the past. Needless to say, to sit down and talk to Milk Dee was another great highlight of my “career”. We talk about everything from the early Audio Two days, to the lost “Last Dead Indian” LP, to the American days to what he has been up to lately.
WYDU: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, its much appreciated. First off, you have gotten somewhat of a renewed interest in you and your career with this 50 Cent project dropping and you are back in the limelight, how does that feel at this stage of your career?
Milk Dee: It feels good, I definitely enjoy the attention. I’m in the process of relaunching our label, First Priority and I’m working on putting out new material so it’s given me a good opportunity to be out there and getting my feet wet again.
W: It is pretty special to still be relevant after some 20 years later with your name living on through the samples and even the 50 song “I Get Money”. When you first picked up a mic, what were you striving for when you first came up back in ’86, ’87?
Milk: Actually my first record came out in ’84, it was called “A Christmas Rhyme” when I was 14. I started rhyming when I was around nine, listening to Cold Crush Brothers, Kool Moe Dee, those are the artists that inspired me. When I first started rhyming, my goal was to be the best MC of all time. I think thats part of what being an MC is, wanting to be the best. I think that every artist has their own path and although it doesn’t always go like we want it to go, each path is different and I wouldn’t believe my path would have ended up like this but I’m extremely happy that it did. I’m happy with what is going on and being relevant some years later, its good I’ll take that, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
W: Talk about First Priority back in the day. It was a family ran label and the artist roster seemed pretty tight, you had the “First Priority Basement Music” compilation and the such, kind of a Juice Crew type vibe going on. How was the atmosphere back then, how was it working with everyone?
Milk: It was great. I miss that atmosphere in the studio. Its different now, it doesn’t have anything to do with the artists or whatever, but its just a different vibe. At that time, it was a real fun and creative vibe going on. We’d go in to do the songs and we’d spend a lot of time creating, just having fun and creating. I think that a lot of time the atmosphere of whats going on allows talent to grow. Sometimes if your in the studio with the right producer or the right artist, they can bring that extra edge out in you. I don’t really compare ourselves to Juice Crew or whoever. They made their mark and we made our mark. It is impressive to see that amount of impact that we had. The amount of samples and I’m not talking just about Top Billin, I mean our whole catalog made an impact.
W: Are you still in contact with Barsha or King of Chill or any of those guys anymore?
Milk: I don’t keep in touch with Barsha. I see King of Chill every now and then, I spoke with him a couple weeks ago. He’s still doing great, he works with DJ Premier.
Milk: Daddy-O is my mentor, he was one of the first artists that I ever met that was out there doing “it”, we just kind of hit it off. So when it was time to release some more new music, I felt like I had to have Daddy-O involved in it because he is like a specialized pro.
W: We’ve seen it and read it before, but for those of our readers who might have missed it, can you go over how “Top Billin’” came to be?
Milk: One night I was working on a remix for one of Lyte’s songs and I came up with the beat for it by playing around. The beat inspired me to write to it, so I wrote it and put it down that same night. The whole song took a little less than an hour. The next day I let Daddy-O hear it and he was like “Damn, this is it, this is the one”. We then went into the studio to mix it and Dad
dy-O added his finishing touches to it and it was done, history.
W: You mentioned your sister, Lyte, how is she, what is she up to these days?
Milk: Lyte is good, she is working TV stuff and she is still working on her music. She has a single coming out that Premier produced so she still working the music as well.
W: Do you mind discussing how it was working with her back in the day because you were pretty instrumental in her first couple albums?
Milk: Yeah, there would be no MC Lyte without Milk Dee! hahaha. I did her first song, which was “I Cram To Understand U”. Lyte is, in my opinion, the best female rapper of all-times. People may disagree, but thats how I see it. She is an extreme talent, she has everything it takes to be an MC, starting with the “spunk”. Thats what really inspired me with Lyte starting off, she was so spunky. It may not be no big deal now, but then, the fact that she would curse, that was spunky. You never heard no female MC on the mic say “fuck”, that was a big thing back then.
W: In hindsight, how do you feel when you look back at “What More Can I Say?”
Milk: The funny thing is, on the low, all our albums are classics including the album that never came out, “First Dead Indian”…
W: Oh I have a question about that album coming up…..haha
Milk: haha, oh okay…I feel like the first album kind of explains who I am as a person. I always try to take chances, I was very experimental. You either get it or you don’t. In the end it was a classic, so I’m completely happy with that.
W: The second album, which I probably like just as much or more than the first, you didn’t get quite as much credit for that album. There was a lot of things going on at that time with the changing tides in Hip-Hop during that time. How do you feel about that album looking back on it?
Milk: We did have some problems over at the label. There was some controversy going on which I don’t even want to talk about. I think times were changing, and you know, it was the sophomore album. The people that get it, get it and they love it others, they don’t know about it. There are certain things on the second album that I like more than on the first. I think the second album was a better album, maybe overall. Like “I Get The Paper”, thats my song, I love that song. But then again, “On The Road Again”, which was basically Atlantic forcing us to do the type of song that they wanted as a single.
W: The video for “On The Road Again” was great though, I was just watching that before the interview…..
Milk: haha, yeah, thanks. It was fun doing that video. Even “Never Dated”, an underground classic, I get more requests for “Never Dated” material that “Top Billin’” these days. Which means a lot of people were right about “Never Dated”. “Never Dated” came out in a different era than “Top Billin’”, so the ones into “Never Dated”, they may not even be as familiar with “What More Can I Say”, or “I Don’t Care”, all they know is “Get Off My Log” and “Spam”.
W: Back when “I Don’t Care” dropped, you got some heat for some of the things you said on the second album. How did you look at that then and how do you look at that now?
W: You mentioned the “First Dead Indian”, which is kind of a lost treasure to some of us internet dorks are dying to hear. What happened to that and what are the chances of that ever seeing the light of day?
Milk: “First Dead Indian” was scheduled to come out and we got into a controversy with the label and we left Atlantic. What is happening now, with the relaunch of First Priority, we are going to release “First Dead Indian” and some other never released songs as kind of a boutique for the label. It will be cool, I mean I get the desire to hear it. I would be interested in hearing a lost Big Daddy Kane album or something like that, so I get why people want to hear it.
W: Its about equivalent to that, I know there will be some happy people to hear that finally, myself included. After that album you ended up going to Rick Rubin’s American label, how did you hook up with American and Rubin?
Milk: I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. In a lot of ways, I modeled my production after his. He was a big influence on me, especially the cockiness, not being scared to experiment. So I felt like that would be a perfect place for me, be over there because I figured he’d understand what I was trying to do and I wouldn’t be pressured into making music that I didn’t want to make. It’s actually a funny story. I called him, which anyone knows anything about Rick, they know its impossible to get a hold of him, so I left him a message. Six hours later he calls me and he’s like “Yo, this is Rick Rubin”, he didn’t sound like I thought he’d sound like, so I think someone is playing games with me, but it was him. I told him I was out of my situation over at Atlantic and I’d really like to be on his label and he said it’d be his honor to have me on his label and lets do it. So that was it, it was done. The paper work wasn’t done until later, but all it took was that one phone call. Its funny, my A&R guy said when he was interviewing with Rubin for his position, they both went to Tower Records and Rick told him to go buy two CD’s and he would go buy two CD’s and then they’d come back to the car and discuss the two CD’s they had bought. Rick came back with a Mix-A-Lot CD and an Audio Two CD and he told him he wanted these two artists for his label. He had already wanted me over there and I wanted over there, so it was one of those things that it worked out well for both of us.
W: There was never a full length release follow up to “Never Dated”, why is that?
Milk: There was just things going on. At that point Rick was renegotiating his contract. He moved from Warner to Sony. At that point I wasn’t really ready to continue rapping anyway.
W: The single “Spam” seemed to get a lot of play. How did you go about getting Ad-Rock on that track?
Milk: I don’t even remember who’s idea it was. Like I said I’m a big Rick Rubin fan and the Beastie Boys were a big part of that. I think maybe it was Dan (his A&R for the project) suggested that I contacted them. Ad-Rock was excited about doing it, but he was a little upset because he was mad at Rick at the time and he didn’t want it being on Rick’s label, but he was happy to do it. We went into the studio and had a great time. He’s a real cool dude.
W: Since the last EP, what have you been up to since then?
Milk: Since that last EP, I’ve been in the studio producing and working. I did a Janet Jackson remix, I did some movie scores, one was “Hell’s Kitchen” which had Mekhi Phifer and Angelina Jolie. I did some songs for “Civil Brand”, with MC Lyte in it. I had a big artist overseas by the name of Jason Downs who had the hit “White Boy With A Feather”, which was really big overseas. Most recently, Eamon, “I Don’t Want You Back” and that album. That song was the most played in 2004 and sold millions of copies.
W: How did the movie scores come about?
Milk: At the time Mekhi Phifer did that movie, he was still one of my artists and I was working on an album for him. We became cool with the director of the movie and he decided he wanted to include some of the music.
W: I’m not much of an R&B guy, but how did you hook up with Eamon?
Milk: Eamon is pop haha…
W: Yeah my bad….
Milk: I was in the studio working on the remix for a Janet Jackson track and the engineer at the time, Mark Passy, who is now the COO for First Priority told me that I had to hear this kid. So I went to the other studio to listen to him and the I had an idea with what I wanted to do with him, so I signed him. I like all types of music. I like to produce all types of music. It’s not about the genre, its about the creativity. When work with different artists, you get creative in different ways.
W: So how do you change your approach when you work with the different genres then? How is each different?
Milk: It’s not. For me its the same thing, I just do what I do. I just do the beat and a lot of times the artist dictates that some. Eamon comes from a Doo-Wop background as a child. He was doing Doo-Wop. So when I heard that, I thought “Oh, we need to do some sort of doo-wop/hip hop type of thing”, I do the same thing I do and when he does his thing to them, they become pop. But the beats are still hip hop…
W: Same backbone then kind of….
Milk: Yeah, I mean I’m the same person. I don’t switch it on and off. I just do what I do. Sometimes if I’m in the studio with a rock artist, which I work with a lot now, the guitars might make people say it’s “rock”, but the beat is still hip hop.
W: You mentioned the re-launch of First Priority, so it sounds like there is going to be a R&B, Hip-Hop, and pop obviously…..
Milk: Yes, we are re-launching as a total entertainment company, where we won’t be limited to any genre and we plan on making unique music for everybody. I think that the state of the music industry right now is perfect for what we want to do.
W: What is it that you are hoping to accomplish with it then?
Milk: What we WILL accomplish! Haha…Right now, I think the music is a reflection for the time and I feel like its about right for what is going. I do think some of the music is lacking and I think it could be setting up for a new renaissance of music. I feel like we are going to get new music in the atmosphere and give the people more options to listen to. We are hoping that people will be looking for new, interesting music. I’m in the studio trying to make
sure the music is special and I’m putting a little extra effort, no excuse me A LOT of extra effort into it. I think thats part of the reason the sales are so low. The music doesn’t compel you to go buy it, I mean you can do with it or you can do with out it.
W: How has the internet changed the way a label is ran then?
Milk: The internet is both a blessing and a curse. When we first started there was no such thing as the internet. It was a lot harder to get the music exploited. It was a lot more manual labor to get the music out there. You had to physically send out racks of stuff, cause even back then there were no CD’s either. Now with the internet you can reach so many more people, with that though comes the downloading and the easy accessibility to music AND videos. Before you had to have the record and play it whenever you wanted to hear it. Now you can just go on the internet and play the video to hear it, you can go to I-tunes and buy it there. Its a blessing and a curse. With all these things, you have to figure out creative ways to market. Back then you had to be creative in marketing. Now you also have to be creative but in different ways. Use whatever you have and do whatever you can.
W: You mentioned something about working on new material and maybe a new album in another interview I read, whats the scoop with that?
Milk: Yes, I was just in the studio working on some new material. I’m doing a new Milk Dee album. We are going to start off with a few singles. I might have a single before the end of the year, if not then definitely at the top of the year you’ll hear a new single.
W: So what can we expect from the new album?
Milk: Right now I’m in the studio, catching the vibe, figuring out what its going to be. In the position that I’m in, its hard to shake off all the experience and all that you’ve learned. What I’m looking for is a completely free project and just do what I do, and not what I’m told and not what everyone else is telling me to do. Just some Milk Dee shit.
W: Then its basically for fun and what you want then, is that correct?
Milk: It’s definitely for fun, but its not just for me, I don’t want it to be only me that understands it. I think will get it, in fact I think people will be searching for something other than the same thing over and over again. Something for fun, that is not out there, but if the people have the opportunity to decide if they would like it or not, they would probably like it.
W: Are you producing it yourself?
Milk: Actually I have a lot of material that I’ve produced myself. I’m just going to keep working at it until I come up with the ones that I think will fit the album. The whole creative process is a whole strange thing, sometimes is hard. It depends on how much weight you put on your shoulders. Sometimes it stifles your creativity. A lot of these cats are making music for the sole intention of what they think might get play on the radio. Doing what they think is “Hot”. That has a lot to do with the labels to. They don’t want to take the chances of doing something different. I mean are there any true A&R cats out there anymore? And when I say A&R, I mean from a Motown perspective. Are they developing the artist, are they making the artist record songs over and over again until it is right or experimenting with different producers. Now its like “Is the song done?”
W: So the infamous question, is hip hop dead or is it alive, on life support?
Milk: I think hip hop is alive. Like I said before, music is a reflection of the times. Can it get better? Absolutely. Music goes in cycles, nothing is constant but change. I think we will go through a cycle that its better than what it is now. But its not dead, its larger than ever, well not larger than ever, but the amount of revenue that is generated from hip hop right now is a lot more than what it generated in 1988.
W: Exactly, how different are things between ’88 and now….besides the obvious things?
Milk: Everyone asks this question. It’s a lot different. I have certain things that are true about hip hop, like I think things should be a certain way. But you can’t get stuck, its constantly evolving. From the technical aspect, back in the day it was all analog, now you have the whole digital/analog controversy. We went from tape to DAT machines and now DAT machines are obsolete. I remember when DAT machines came out but the technology is going to keep changing and with that the sound of the music is going to keep changing. It is what it is. If you are into music and you make music, if you are listening to the radio and you are hearing music that you don’t like, that is a cue to create something that you like that everyone else will like also. In the 80′s all the 35 year old people were saying hip hop was garbage back then like “What is this garbage”. I mean isn’t that the same thing that happened with Motown and its downfall? I talk about all these labels because I read a lot of books on them. Thats my hobby, I’ve read five books on Motown, I’ve read books on Def Jam, Death Row, Ruthless, all those labels and what I find, its always the same story. Like Motown is the same story as Death Row, the time frame is different, the characters are different, but they follow the same story line. You approach a label the same way Motown and make adjustments for the technology or whatever, it’ll work. Same stories, different details.
Milk: Motown’s story is the same story as First Priority’s story. We are just going to do what we did. It’s still the same story, but just different details. Right now, because of how the labels are, its harder for that story to come about. But in the near future, you’ll see more independence. You’ll see more music being successful. Some with a vision and heart will come out striving to make the best music that you can. In Motown’s day, you couldn’t put colored artists on the covers. What could they have done if they were allowed that type of thing. Now you have downloads, same story, different details.
W: Speaking of downloads, how do you feel about downloading?
Milk: You heard about the whole Radiohead thing, right?
Milk: I think thats a cool way to do it. The main problem is, the music doesn’t make you want to go buy it. If you’re scared to go buy an album because you know there is only going to be one or two good songs, then you are not going to go buy that album. I think the sales could be better, but they are never going to be the some because of the downloading. What Radiohead is doing is basically saying, “If you like this, then pay for it”. It’s risky, but thats cool, they are saying “We believe in our music and if you like the music, then you’ll pay for it”. Its part of the game. What do you do? Just fold? You have to get creative with it. You have to adjust.
W: Is your father still going to be involved in the label?
Milk: Absolutely, we are still partners. Right now, its Nat Robinson CEO, Mark Passy COO, and me. We are the core of the label and the core is still the same.
W: What artists do you have signed that haven’t been mentioned?
Milk: We have a rapper named June Lover. We have a rock guy who is named John Lardieri. We have an R&B guy who’s name is T-Marvin and we a couple other things we are working. Great things are going to happen.
W: Well I just great talking with you, you have long been one of my favorites, I bought a bunch of your early material so I’ve been into your music from day one.
Milk: It’s because of people like that we were able to originally launch the label. I just got to say this and I’ll let you go: In the light of things, I almost feel like its 86′ all over again. When we started, there was no radio station, “Home of Hip Hop & R&B”, there was no such thing. Just to get them to play a hip hop song was a great feat. Now we have “Home of Hip Hop”, and three different radio stations playing hip hop. Now we have the downloads, but why are we not able to exploit it? Its no worse than not having no radio stations playing our music like before.
W: Great, thanks again Milk!