Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Archive Interview - Scorpio (interviewed April 2016)

The history of Scorpio, Mele Mel (only one ‘l’ in ‘Mele’ now, apparently), Grandmaster Flash and the rest of The Furious Five is a complicated one. In many ways it’s easier to just accept that the past is the past and glory in the news that there is a future for the hip-hop trailblazers. I chatted to Scorpio, an original member of The Furious Five recently and he started, as all interviews should but few do, with a full introduction;

“First I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Scorpio from the original rap group Grandmaster Flash, Furious Five and now me and my partner Mele Mel travel the world, we go out as Grandmaster’s Furious Five featuring Mele Mel and Scorpio. I want to start by saying ‘respect to the UK’. We love the UK. If I had to live any other place besides where I live it would definitely be the UK. We love coming over there. The tour’s gonna be incredible, we’re touring the whole countryside, up and down, with the original Sugarhill Gang, Wonder Mike and Master Gee and Hendogg, so we’re gonna have a great time. It’s the original essence of true hip-hop from our era and it’s gonna be nothing but a party all through the UK.”

I tell Scorpio that when I first heard ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘The Message’, ‘White Lines’, ‘Scorpio’ and ‘Step Off’ it opened up a window onto a completely different world for me. We continue by discussing the legacy of hip-hop, and specifically Scorpio and Mele Mel’s part in making it the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.

“I think that the influence of hip-hop is even stronger today because it has so many social media outlets, it can spring across all borders, all barriers, all languages. We go to places all over the planet where people can barely speak our language but they can sing our songs, lyric for lyric. On the big picture, hip-hop, besides just being a great music and a great feeling, helps so much with racism, because us kids coming from The Bronx would’ve never interacted with different people but because of the love of the music we all have a common ground and once you stand on that common ground you really realise that you got more in common than you don’t. When we travel all over the world, most of the people that we play for are not the people of our colour, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s the unseen part of hip-hop that people never talk about. Everybody grow up with stereotypes ‘these people are like that’ or ‘those people are like this’ but when you meet on the common ground of music you see most of that stuff that they preach about other people being just a bunch of crap. We definitely see our influence everywhere we go. When I look at television, 70% of the commercials got hip-hop in it, rap in it. All of that is fruit from our original tree. When I drive my car, I stop at a light and look over at a person who doesn’t know me, but they’re playing hip-hop. If I go on vacation, if I go to any place on the planet I can see something of my work that we created in The Bronx and it’s all over the planet now. A lot of the time a lot of people say ‘You all should be rich; you should have what they have’. Of course, like anybody else we would love to have the economic gratification, but we are rich. What we did and what we brought to the planet you can’t really put a price tag on that. I know our worth, and you can’t even put a dollar on it. ”

The boys are touring to promote their new single, ‘Some Kind of Sorry’, so I ask Scorpio whether they have more new material.

“Oh yes, we gotta whole stack of new material just ready to go. We have a whole album ready to go, it’s already cut, it’s already mixed, it’s already mastered. Our first single is being released on May 27th, and we’re having our release party May 28th in Manchester and coming to Newcastle Riverside on June 5th. This tour is really all about the original Sugarhill Gang getting their name back and performing under that name but it’s also gonna incorporate our release for our record on that tour.”

At this point our conversation turns to the new stars of rap and hip-hop.

“With all due respect I really used to like Kanye’s earlier stuff, I think he was brilliant in the songs and the concepts. I really take my hat off to him because that was part of our original blueprint of hip-hop. And Kendrick is just bringing that pure-hip-hop back. When you look at him he ain’t walking around with no big chains, no big rings, no big nothing, it’s just pure hip-hop. He’s probably the closest reminder of when we first started. I know when he’s rapping, when he’s doing what he’s doing, it’s coming from a pure place, he ain’t trying to fluff it up with a whole bunch of other stuff around him, the biggest diamond, the biggest chains, it’s about his craft and I really respect him for that. He’s sticking to the original form more than anybody who’s out there.”

I ask Scorpio who influenced him and Mele Mel back in The Bronx.

“Our only influence, we would have to say, would be Kool Herc. He was a DJ outta The Bronx who actually came before us and he and his crew was the people that we used to look up to, go to their parties and check out what they was doing. It was because of him that made us want to do what we do. Just like we was the inspiration to a lot of other people, he was our inspiration, even though he didn’t like us!”

Then we discuss hip-hop’s earliest days.

“If you was ever to go and pull up old pictures of The Bronx it looked like a third world country. Most of the buildings was burnt out, a lot of gangs, dope deals, different things like that and out of that concrete grew a rose and that rose turned out to be hip-hop. We weren’t taking trips to Beverley Hills and having stuff to compare it to, that’s all we seen. Certain things that was on TV, certain lifestyles that was on TV that was like a fantasy, not reality. Because we was in that position and because we wasn’t privileged, because we didn’t have the luxury of going to fancy hockey games or things like that we had to make something with our time and that’s what hip-hop was. Like a rose from the concrete.”
“It was a whole movement, it was almost like a big circus where you have everything, you got the elephants, you got the tigers, you got people flipping and that was hip-hop. And it was in one place, The Bronx. For a spot like The Bronx to birth something that explosive is still incredible. You know you’ll always have a lot of people saying it came from this and that, and that they had this and they had that, but it truly, truly started in The Bronx. I have to say that, not because I’m a Bronx cat, but because that’s just a fact. Nobody else was playing hip-hop and nobody definitely wasn’t rhyming because Mele Mel and Kidd Creole was the ones to really start rhyming on beats.”

Finally, Scorpio signs off as politely as he started.

“I want to thank all our UK fans, we can’t wait, we gonna be over there May 26th, so look out, we gonna have a great time.”

Please don't forget that you can download and read 'The Great Cassette Experiment' and 'Writing About Music' from Amazon and Google Play Books. 

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