Mic Drop is a recurring series featuring the thoughts and opinions of some of the biggest voices in classic Hip-Hop. Raw, uncut — and in their own words — these are the gems you've always wanted.
I was sixteen when I joined Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor's Idol Makers camp.
For me, it was more like a family situation. With Hurby, it was more like a student-teacher thing. Or like that cool uncle or that cool big cousin that allows you to do anything. That was me and Hurby. Here was someone doing something that I wanted to do: being a producer and an artist. I'm seeing it firsthand with somebody I knew. I lived four blocks away, so I made it a mission to find excuses to go over there and absorb the things they were doing.
My parents got divorced and within a year and half's time, my father was getting remarried. So we moved out of Queens to Englewood, New Jersey. I would always go back to Queens but I got a job in Englewood working at a grocery store and saved up my money for studio time. The only time I was able to get was on Christmas morning from midnight to 8 a.m. With that studio time, I created my first album. I had eight hours and I was able to produce the records and I handed it to Hurby to see what he thought of it.
My father left New Jersey and moved down to Virginia and it was right when I was signing my contracts. I was like "You gotta be crazy, thinking I'm gonna be rapping and living on a farm?" So I moved with my mother from Elmhurst, Queens to South Jamaica, Queens. I don't know anybody on that side of Queens, but now I'm showing up to school with advance money. I'm showing up rocking Hurby's jewelry, rocking my jewelry. Looking like Nino Brown! I was like a human target. The school thinks I'm a drug dealer; it was a surreal situation. I go to the principal and let him know I have an album coming out and I'm asking for some kind of work-study program. And the principal suggested that I drop out of high school!
It was never really an artist/producer dynamic between Hurby and me; it was not even really an artist/manager dynamic. Idol Makers was an all-encompassing thing. Being in that situation and being as self-contained as I was, it just became self evident that maybe this isn’t my kind of situation. Because this overall picture is more serving to Salt-N-Pepa and Kid 'n Play. I don’t need the things that they need. I don’t have those requirements.
And I didn’t always like the radio, poppy vibe.
Out of everybody in Idol Makers, I was the guy that was the super lyrical guy. The battle rapper guy. I was heavy into my writing. Some of the other artists may have gotten stuff written for them. Somebody like me, I was in my artist bag. My first rap for "The Rhythm" was tougher than the final version. Hurby Azor was like “You’ve gotta lighten that up. They’re not gonna play that on the radio.” A lot of the lighthearted Kwamé records were due to Hurby’s influence.
It was where Hurby was going.
Hurby made a concerted effort to make radio records. It was him going out on tour with Salt-N-Pepa and hitting different cities and understanding that it wasn’t just about Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx.
In order for it to go other places, it had to be that. Would I have done it differently? Maybe. You look at LL COOL J, you look at Run-D.M.C., artists who went everywhere but didn’t water it down. But Hurby believed you needed that.
Except for Salt N Pepa, that approach eventually bit everybody else in the ass!
Hurby was like "You need to come to L.A. with us. You can record your second album in L.A.; we’re gonna make music for a movie; and we’re gonna put you in the movie." So at seventeen-years old, I pick up and I’m living in L.A. We’re all living in the same apartment complex — all of us. I’m spending $2,500 a month on an apartment in 1989. I’m not doing any shows because I’m following Hurby’s lead. So I’m out here, not doing any music. I’m chasing chicks. Me and Hurby — chasing chicks.
I show up to the set of House Party and there’s no part for me. But yet, there’s like twenty Kwamé lookalikes in the movie! So I’m starting to see a lot of things. And I’m feeling like a minion. I’m not feeling like my own person. I have no real purpose except to take up space. My first album is out and it’s doing well, but I’m sitting in California, not doing anything.
I remember being in wardrobe; and the hairstylist for House Party was my barber in L.A. She told me; they would even specifically ask her to cut guys' hair like mine. She was even building wigs to have kids look like me. Like "We want that Kwamé look!" But Kwamé was on set every day! So for them to not say, "Yo, get in this scene right here." Why not?
The mistake that I used to make was; I wasn’t making Hurby "Luv Bug" money. I wasn’t making Kid 'n Play money. I was the young one trying to run with them.
But I should have been saving up and doing my own thing a little bit more; as opposed to putting myself in situations maybe I shouldn’t have been in as a 17 or 18 year old. I’m looking up to them and how they rock, because it’s cool to a kid.
But at that point, I was like “I can’t be following you guys around.” From the second album on out, the attitude was “I gotta do what I gotta do.”
There’s never been any bad will at any point. You have childhood friends that you grow out of. You have friends in elementary school but you go to high school and have a different set of friends. That was this. It was like..Kid 'n Play, Salt-N-Pepa and Hurby – they’re always gonna feel like big cousins. But you’re not at the kid’s table anymore. You see them on holidays, but you’re not following them around anymore. Of course, there’s a business aspect to it. But luckily for me, I was able to make enough money to buy things like publishing back.
And I think the only ill feeling was never towards Hurby — I understood the business — but I wasn’t going to be a victim of the business.
Other artists may have had certain feelings during the time. I think the ultimate demise of Idol Makers was the fact that, on one side, it was based on Hurby, and that’s cool. But there was no clear interaction amongst the acts. There was no reason why Kid ‘n Play and Salt-N-Pepa didn’t have a record together. Or me and Dana Dane. Or the whole crew having a record together. When Hurby put together his own album as Hurby’s Machine, that would’ve been the perfect place to put it. To this day, I can never figure that out.
Idol Makers rallied behind me on my first video: you had Dana in the video, Spinderella, Kid ‘n Play. That was a concerted effort to rally around the new kid. But I think there was a piece missing. It’s like a vase that doesn’t break all at once, pieces just start to get chipped off.
Nobody can say "Hurby robbed me" or "Hurby disrespected me." It was never that. It was always individual reasons why people bounced. I don't know if you blame Hurby or you blame the collective. I do know one thing that happened: Hurby brought in another team of people, and that may have rubbed people the wrong way. I think a lot of cats were on some “We’re down with you, but we don’t know them.” And they’re only really gunning for Salt-N-Pepa. And we’re just here. I get it. This is business. That’s how it goes. I'm not complaining. But those little dynamics that went left caused the house of cards to fall down.
But to this day, we all get together and talk. We're pushing for an Idol Makers tour! And hopefully, one day we'll get it right. Who knows?
*HEADER CREDIT: Kwamé attends the VH1 Hip Hop Honors 2006 at the Hammerstein Ballroom October 7, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)