Seattle Weekly: You’ve just self-published a book, Rakim Told Me: Hip-Hop Wax Facts, Straight From the Original Artists—the ’80s, featuring interviews with 21 hip-hop artists about their classic albums. Was it difficult to get anyone to open up about their work?
Brian Coleman: It was pretty easy. The Mantronix interview [was] the only e-mail interview that I had to do, because he was on tour, so his answers were kind of cut-and-dry, very much, “I don’t know, we just did it.” Some artists don’t think about it as much. Some artists really do—Schoolly D and Mr. Mixx from 2 Live Crew, they’re scientists. They take the shit apart and they obsess over what drum machine they’re using. Much more often than not, the artists are very gung-ho about it.
One striking thing about the book is how eager these cats were to talk about the music as music, rather than as sociology.
That’s always been my interest. I’ve never really been interested as much in the sociological, sociopolitical, academic view of hip-hop and where it exists in popular culture. I like the music and I want to know about it. I think the artists are sick of that. That is why, I think, [in these interviews] they kind of really settle into the groove and really start getting into it. Like [EPMD’s] Erick Sermon—when I was talking to him, [it was] like he was talking about somebody else. I mean, how many people ask Too Short about how he records instead of asking about the more sensational parts of his personality? My goal was to get to the core of it. I think it proves that not enough people have really talked to these artists. To actually give them the respect they deserve as musicians, I think they appreciate that. They certainly open up accordingly.
If you were to pick one album from the book to turn into an episode of VH1’s Classic Albums, which would it be?
That’s a tough one—which one would be more interesting, or which one would I like to see get more props? Public Enemy, I don’t think there would be any debate. 2 Live Crew would lend itself very well to the VH1 treatment, for sure. [But] it’s kind of obvious that the love letter in this whole book is Ultramagnetic [MC’s, Critical Beatdown]. Those guys always deserve much more respect than they’ve gotten. [Rapper] Kool Keith obviously loves an adventure, but he’s also a really, really insightful guy. If you don’t really buy the stuff he starts to say when he’s talking shit, then you can get a lot of really, really amazing stuff out of him. If someone had footage of the Ultramagnetic [show] where they were all wearing walkie-talkies and their fur coats and came in and DJ Premier was in the audience just freaking out—that’s footage I would like to see.
Rakim Told Me is available at www.waxfacts.com.