Mele Mel (Hip Hop Icon Series)

card_melemelThere’s emcees, there are pioneers and then there’s the “1st MC.” Mele Mel coined the term MC while Cowboy, another member of the Furious Five, came up with the term hip hop. You read through enough interviews on this site and elsewhere and you’ll see he made your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper want to pick up the mic. Coming out along with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Mele Mel recorded classics like “The Message” and “White Lines” that truly changed the landscape of hip hop. I was thinking about the scene today and how it probably differed so much from the early Kool Herc parties. What was the scene like and what inspired you to get started in hip hop when it didn’t even have a name at the time?

Mele Mel: Well, basically we all started out as dancers. We were B-Boys. Not breakdancing like you see cats now. It was more of an uprock style. We would just go to different parties. Herc was a big DJ out at the time. Bam was also doing his thing in another part of the Bronx but not as big as Herc. We used to just go to Herc’s party because he was the most popular DJ at the time and had a good sound system. Herc was the blueprint for the whole style of what became real hip hop. He had the crowd, the good sound system, a good voice, and a nice set of b-boys with him. The only thing that we did different was put structure to what a person would say on the mic. That’s where the MC started. Before that everybody was djs and b-boys. There weren’t any emcees until we created that title.

Halftimeonline: I know the beginning of the MC came from the DJ saying a couple of phrases or bringing in some guys to say a few lines to keep the party going but you mentioned putting structure behind it. What were some of the things you did to the different phrases to add that structure?

Mele Mel: We just made long form rhymes. With Herc and them before anybody would get on the mic Herc would say, “And Yes Ya’ll now we’re gonna…” It would always start with ‘And, yes ya’ll.” What my brother did was flip it to rhyme pattern saying “Yes, yes ya’ll, freak, freak ya’ll, to the beat ya’ll and it don’t stop” and then he kicked his rhyme. We more or less patterned what we’d say on the mic. It started out with simple phrases that Herc said and then we stretched it out so you could say it on beat and elongate. When Herc was spinning he would say something on the mic and then play a record and after that he’d say something else and play another record. What we added to the game was that you could do both things at the same time. The DJ wouldn’t have to pick up the mic because we would be on the mic. He could just cut and that added a whole new dimension to what the music was about. That’s where the MC came from.

Halftimeonline: You were saying things people sorta used to but flipped it with your own style. What were the reactions when you guys first started doing that?

Mele Mel: Well, that made Flash the # 1 DJ in the world. His parties, for the most part, were more entertaining than anybody else’s. He had revolutionized the quick mix, scratching and the backspin so when you threw in our style of rapping you could dance the whole night. There was never a dead spot. So it was a nonstop totally entertaining evening. The difference we added was like you using a phone with a cord on it versus a cell phone. Our parties were a different scene it was like constant stimulation.

Halftimeonline: Even though biting wasn’t really accepted back in the day like it is now I’d have to assume that cats had to have begun to copy you once ya’ll started doing your routines. Did you notice what you were doing becoming a trend at other people’s parties?

Mele Mel: Oh without a doubt. People wouldn’t take the actual routine but small aspects of it. Back then a biter would be equivalent to how people today look at a so called snitch. You were looked at pretty bad if you stole someone’s line or even paraphrased it. We never said stuff like “just like Biggie said…” Everything had to be your rhyme and your original thing. So people bit the concept of what we were doing but not the actual rhymes and routines. A few guys would do it but in the circle of MCs you were looked upon as a real grimy dude to have actually bit someone’s rhymes or routines like that.

Halftimeonline: What kind of routines did you guys generally work on to allow you to perform and tour alongside polished groups like The Commodores and Cameo? Or was it one of those things where once you got on tour with them you were like damn we really need to work on our stuff!

Mele Mel: The one thing we didn’t have was a fluid act onstage. We had stage presence and the things we were doing in the street were well rehearsed and well polished. So when we did our first record and went on the road the thing we needed to learn was the structure of a show when you’re onstage in front of people who don’t understand the concept of djing and rap. If we let enough dead silence go by you would hear someone in the audience go “where’s the bass player?” or “where’s the drummer?” So we knew we had to plug up all the holes so there wouldn’t be any silence. Then as the country learned more about hip hop and the concept of djing and rapping and realizing that we aren’t a band we didn’t have that problem. So it wasn’t really the showman part, it was more about how do you structure the show.

Halftimeonline: How did you and Flash meet up and whose idea was it to form the group?

Mele Mel: Well, Flash was our neighborhood DJ. In order to be a big DJ one of the things you had to have was clientele. Your clientele would start in a certain area. So the area that Flash originally came from he didn’t know people who were out partying like that but the area that we came from was an unmarked territory. There were a lot of young people hanging out and it was a good neighborhood to be in so Flash came from another neighborhood to ours and started djing. He became our neighborhood DJ and the group built itself around Flash but it was always separate. MC wise we did what we did and then Flash would come in at practice to see what we were doing. People say Flash put the Furious Five together but it didn’t happen like that. He never asked anyone to MC for him because emceeing didn’t even exist. It was something we were doing on our own and if we needed another MC it was on us. It had nothing to do with Flash knowing what we were doing. We just did it and then we brought the ideas and the routines to his attention. Then we all got in a room and put it together.

Jbutters: So Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five have always been separate entities.

Mele Mel: Yea and that’s how it is even to this day.

Marcus: You talked a bit about violence and how when it did happen it usually occurred in a different part of the party. What type of negative effect do you think gangsta rap has on our community?

Mele Mel: I think the whole attitude of what’s going on in the streets and kids inundated and bombarded with violence have made them numb. There were lines 15 years ago people wouldn’t cross because they were too violent. The original culture of hip hop is breakdancing, djing, emceeing and graffiti but what gangsta rappers did was add drug dealing and violence into that culture. So people wanting to get into hip hop they feel they need to be a violent person to do it and that has nothing to do with hiphop. Once you add violence to your culture it makes it counterculture. It’s not something you want to add. This is what music has done to society and that’s what society is bringing back to the table. Even with weed. I smoked weed when I was younger but now it’s apart of culture and that’s not necessarily a good thing. When you added breakdancing and djing it had a positive effect but when you add violence it’s like it set the whole process back as far as I’m concerned. As far as our revolution as a people it set it back to the beginning. It set it back to slavery days as far as I’m concerned. Now people are slaves amongst themselves. Same with the drug culture it has a new master. Instead of it being a white thing where they come in and lay down rules now the drug dealers are laying down the rules. Like the whole ‘No Snitching’ thing they made it law. That’s not even the right thing to do but who made that law? Drug dealers, because they are trying to make that gangsta attitude apart of our culture and that’s not cool.

Halftimeonline: With that being said as we said earlier back in the day you wouldn’t even paraphrase another rapper but today do you think the creativity is still there?

Mele Mel: I would say it’s there as far as the technology of music. As far as concept wise and lyrically it has definitely degraded itself. There is nothing wrong with Dirty South rap. I actually like the majority of it because it’s party rap and that’s something I can relate to since we started out at parties. The reality is that the majority of those rappers aren’t really good rappers. Actually, most of those guys are hardly rappers at all they just know how to say rhymes all right, good enough to do the records they are selling. They couldn’t win a rap contest. As far as creatively coming from that level it’s regressed. As far as concepts, back in the day you had different groups like Dougie Fresh, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, and us who all made great records with different concepts. It was a great record down the pike every year. Now if you look at the last ten years you might have one great record every two or three years. Ten years from now the records we see today selling 8 million copies won’t be like ‘The Message,’ ‘Rapper’s Delight’ or ‘La Di Da Di’ that’s lasted 20-25 years.  The perfect example that creativity has hit a low is that if you look at all the records Master P sold he doesn’t have one classic record. Not on the stuff he made or anything on his label. None of those records are classic records and he is one of the biggest sellers up to this day. It has to be something creative about your raps and concepts that makes a good record a great record. Today, they just want to sell records. They don’t care if what’s on the record is good or not. Perfect example of that is Lil John. I like the guy, I’ve met him a couple times, respect his talents and what he has brought to the game but when he did that record with Usher and Ludacris and he put that verse on it. If he was trying to make a great record he would have never put that verse on it. He was just thinking about selling records and knew if he put his voice on it that it would add to the record but instead of doing a good verse, decent verse or have someone write him a verse I guess he just smoked some weed, went to the back and wrote some stuff and it came out like that.

Halftimeonline:  Haha!

Mele Mel: If you look at it for what it is that’s not a big deal. However, from a creative standpoint from a person being in the studio I don’t understand how they let him do that.

Halftimeonline:  Haha!

Mele Mel: Who told him that verse was a good idea? And whoever told him that I don’t think that’s one of his best friends.

Halftimeonline: Hahaha!!!

Mele Mel: That might just be somebody who anything he says they agree with. Not being disrespectful but just talking about creativity. Back in the day it would have to be rock solid. Today, if you look at Jay-Z’s verse on Beyonce’s Déjà Vu record and Justin Timberlake’s record. When the guy comes in with the rap it has nothing to do with the song. He just said a rhyme. It was a decent rhyme but had nothing to do with the song which shows creatively they are not locked in. Like the rhyme I said with Chaka Khan it flowed with the record and made the record to a certain extent. It wasn’t just a rhyme on the record. If you said something it would have to flow with the record. Like with Jay-Z he is a good NY rapper and his technique is rock solid. But creativity wise he didn’t take the extra 20 or 30 minutes to lock it in to where it’s like a masterpiece. That would be a moment in music history if you put it down right. Guys just don’t do that anymore.

Halftimeonline: I want to put this out there right now because I hear a lot of young cats rapping and freestyling but the stuff they are writing about is not true and garbage. If someone came to you and kicked a freestyle to you and said I want to rap and I want to blow up and all they are talking about is coke, guns and banging broads what advice would you have for them?

Mele Mel: I always tell cats if they are gonna say a gangsta rhyme I don’t necessarily need to hear it. All he is saying is what nine or ten other guys have said. Sometimes I’ll humor myself as far as listening to a guy. He’ll be 13 or 14 and talking about moving keys and I’m like you go to church every Sunday. You ain’t moving me right now and you ain’t gonna move nothing. All you trying to do is get stuck doing stuff that ain’t got anything to do with you. I try to tell a lot of these cats you have to be a concept rapper. A lot of these young cats don’t understand concepts. If you write a rhyme about a hamburger and write it really well you could sell more records than the guy talking all that gangsta stuff. You have to have the talent but also the talent to bring the concept to life. A lot of guys have talent but can’t bring the concept to life and they’re all biters because what they do is say if 50 is hot let me write something 50 would do not even understanding what 50 is doing. 50 is very clever at what he does and that’s why he sells records. They will just go with the impression of what they think the hottest guy is doing and then keep carbon copying that. Nobody has an original concept. It’s the same thing I’m tough, I sell drugs and I shoot niggas.

Halftimeonline: While we’re talking about creativity you mentioned “The Message” and that was probably the first time I heard someone talking about social commentary in their rhyme. Did you realize how strong that could be putting a message behind the rhyme when you were writing that?

Mele Mel: No, not at all. As a matter of fact the only person who understood the whole concept was Sylvia Robinson. She was the one who wanted to put the record out. The main body of the record was written by the percussionist from the Sugar Hill Gang named Duke Booty. He’s the other voice on the record and the part I wrote was where it started with ‘The child is born with no state of mind.’ I wrote that rhyme in ’79 and that was the first record we did for Joy Records and then we took it off of that record and put it on the end of ‘The Message.’ That was supposed to be the rhyme that capped it all off but nobody believed in the record. Sugar Hill Gang was actually supposed to do ‘The Message’ before we did it but they didn’t want to do it which just goes to show everybody’s head was going in a different direction. Sylvia Robinson saw a whole other direction for rap and she was right. It set us apart from everybody else in the game and to this day it helps us stand out from other groups. As far as rap goes to me that’s still the strongest song. It may not have sold the most but it’s probably the strongest record.

Halftimeonline: You also had the video when rap videos weren’t even big like they are now so I’m sure that helped. How did your day-to-day life change after that hit particularly with you at the forefront in the video?

Mele Mel: It didn’t change all that much but what it did was got us a lot busier. Our whole thing was to become stars and better our life, move out the ghetto and drive nice cars. It helped and served its purpose. If we were smarter and had good lawyers, accountants and representation we might have gotten further. We achieved our goal because we became certified stars. Since there was no blueprint our perception of being a star was sex, drugs and rock n roll. To me at that time Billy Idol was a star. So my idea of being a star was if he was high at one side of the bar we were high at the other side. ‘The Message’ helped us do that. We went from the ghetto into that downtown scene where it was hardcore with real stars. We were into that and that was our thing. We might have got caught up in it but who wouldn’t? We did what we had to do though and made our point inside and outside of the industry. After ‘The Message’ everybody knew we were legitimate A-List stars. That’s what it was all about as far as we were concerned. So [we were] hanging out at Studio 54, not uptown at the jams with Caz and Bambatta and all of them. It wasn’t about that. If you wanted to find Mel and Scorpio we were downtown and Dancerteria. I’m high and I’m watching Billy Idol get high.

Halftimeonline: So it’s true that you were dealing with coke when you wrote ‘White Lines?’

Mele Mel: Yea, without a doubt. That was the trend of the day. It was before crack came out so coke was a party drug. Before I even started using I would just have it because I thought that was what you needed. When you go to give a girl a hug you give her a hit. That’s what it was all about. Later on down the line everyone got caught up. I was a junkie before I was even using and didn’t even know it. I was buying it trying to be a star.

Halftimeonline: I was listening to “White Lines” earlier today and even read in interviews where you said the song was more about the culture you were in and what you were doing rather than an anti-drug song. Whose idea was it to throw in the “Don’t do it?”

Mele Mel: That was definitely Sylvia Robinson’s idea. When the song came out it was so cutting edge but she was worried about it getting past the FCC and getting airplay so they put that in and put it on the title. But like you said it wasn’t an anti or pro drug song, it was just a song about cocaine. In the big cities it was a big record. In some of the smaller towns it took a while to catch on but overseas it was huge. It was on the charts so long the only record that came an knocked us off was a song called “Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Relax).” Overseas “White Lines” was bigger than “The Message” and over here it was the other way around. Their radio was different so it got more of a blanket coverage.

Halftimeonline: Where did the grunt (Urr Ruh) come from? How did that get started?

Mele Mel: That’s kind of a funny story actually. I used to eat a lot of cereal and cookies. They used to call me the cookie monster when I was young. I could eat like 50 cookies.  I would also eat cereal like four or five times a day. I could eat a box of cereal just straight and one of my favorite cereals was Frosted Flakes in really, really cold milk. Tony the Tiger’s whole thing on the commercial was “There Greeeeat!” That’s where I got it from he would come with “There Greeeeat” and I’d be like Urr Ruh!

Halftimeonline: Haha

Mele Mel: Then one day I just said it onstage but it came from me watching Tony the Tiger while I was eating cereal.

Halftimeonline: I would have never figured that one out…

Mele Mel: Hahah, yea I know. But if you look at it it’s the same tone.

Halftimeonline: You mentioned that no emcees out here today have asked you to be on their record or given you your just due or give back considering they are gaining from what you put down. That’s not just speaking for you but for all of the veteran emcees out here. How do you feel pioneers should be treated and viewed in hip hop culture?

Mele Mel: It’s very simple. I’m not for trying to revive the dead or knocking nails off of somebody’s coffin to dig them up.  I’m not saying look for the guy who did “Double-Dutch Bus” and give him another shot. He did it and may have moved on with his life and it’s over. It was a nice ride and good while it lasted but if it is someone like myself, Caz, Kane or Slick Rick – people who can still do it and are on top of their game – they should have the opportunity to do it. You shouldn’t pass over them and just get the newest hottest guy who’s only talking about dope dealing and put him on because what happens is if we miss you’d still make more money with us then this new guy when he misses because most of that gangsta shit misses and doesn’t sell records. It just looks like it and seems popular but when you check on the charts other than Jay-Z and 50 Cent all the NY hip hop ain’t selling. The dirty south and some of the west coast sells records. They aren’t selling the records they used to sell so they are missing. They would definitely make more money because if you deal with a Slick Rick, Kane, or Mele Mel you’re going to spend less money when you put the budget together so at the end of the day you make more money. These young guys are running the company and they don’t have an understanding of what the real record business is. They are still trying to sell dope. So you gotta find the dopest guy, put all that money out there on him i.e. Joe Buddens. He’s a good rapper and he had a hot song with “Pump it Up,” but he didn’t have all of the entities that 50 cent had. 50 was hooked up with Dre and Eminem, had a good white foundation and he was hot on the streets of NY, the story of him getting shot nine times etc. it made for a good story and it sold records. They tried to do the same thing with Joe Buddens and they missed because it don’t always work like that. 50 Cent was just a perfect situation. These guys look at us like we’re not hard enough but rap has been around long enough that you don’t have to be hard. I don’t have to be hard. All I have to do is make a solid Mele Mel album which is what I did and when we put it out it’s gonna win if we have the right marketing and publicity going. There are way more people who will buy a rap album than it was back in the day so the numbers will definitely be bigger.   To sum it up you should have the opportunity to do it just like the young kid who wants to talk about selling dope.

Halftimeonline: I want to go back and have you to give cats a little more history. After “The Message” came out the group splintered a bit over royalty rights of the record. As Flash brought that to the table take us through what exactly happened and how that led to the group splitting.

Mele Mel: Well, when I heard there was gonna be a lawsuit and people were gonna go to court based on what I knew of the law I was the guy saying let’s not do it. We didn’t have a hit record out then. My whole thing was we needed to go and get hot and then when we got hot we make a move. Sometimes you just have anger towards people. Flash and a couple of the other guys were so angry about it that they didn’t really think about what we had at stake where we could try and be hot and make a move from a power position.  They just wanted to leave like “I don’t want to make another dollar with her.” And that’s what happened they left and did their thing, took two years to go to court and I cut “White Lines.” If I had the whole group it might have been different or the same you never know. My whole thing was I’d rather do it from a power position rather than an anger position because then it’s not really a well-thought out plan. They didn’t get to record and they didn’t get any money. They just got the name Grandmaster Flash and that was it. It didn’t stop Sugarhill Records from making money, all it did was leave the door open for groups like the Run DMCs, LL’S, and The Fat Boys to just run over the game.

Halftimeonline: That was actually my next question. Do you think it would have been different since a little bit of the limelight was lost during that time. What do you think would have been different if they didn’t go through with the lawsuit and what were your thoughts on the people coming in at that time?

Mele Mel: I think if we would have stayed together it would have left the top. When we left we took the top off of the game. We were like the ultimate group as far as being a true group in rap as far as skill wise, background, record wise, in the street, just 360 even to this day. When we stopped doing it we took the top off. Like I said earlier our whole vision was to be stars. After we left the streets we didn’t think about what was going on in the streets. We capped it off showing how rappers could be true stars. You take us off and one group comes in and does what I thought was the worst thing anybody could do. It’s what Run and them did and it was very simple, they dressed like and had the same image as their fans. Then every group that was big that came after them was a little grimier till you have what’s going on right now. Our fans couldn’t be us. We had $1500 tailor made leather suits. We shopped all over the world. The best they could hope to be was a scaled down version of us and it would look corny. So when Run and them started dressing like the dudes on the corners of Hollis, Queens street cred started to mean more than creativity. With us once you were stars you were bigger than the streets. It counteracted what we did where we set it up to be big superstars. That threw everything out of whack because now people think the streets have something to offer.

Halftimeonline: They also changed the perception of the emcee which I am sure made it tougher for ya’ll when you decided to come back together and try to reclaim the crown. Did you see anyone kinda closing the doors on you saying oh nah it’s changed now you can’t get back in?

Mele Mel: A lot of the guys who were controlling the strings may have been trying to do records back then and their records were never as popular as ours so when they look at us [it’s different]. Even someone as powerful as Russell Simmons. He’s big to them but he’s not a big thing to me just like as a rapper I’m not as big to him. When he see me he don’t call me Mele Mel he’s like hey Melvin. He knows me like that and I know him like that. Industry people don’t want to be around people like that. They want to be the person sitting in the biggest chair and everyone else is peons. I wouldn’t say we were blacklisted because not a lot of them have the power to do that but we’re the most unlikely guys they’d want back around because our stature is over theirs. In the industry nobody can out stature us even to this day. No matter how much money they make they aren’t the guys that started it and that put us in a unique position.  So when we come around a lot of people have to bow down or bow out and they don’t want to do that. I think it’s more of that than anything else. A lot of people don’t want someone around to threaten their power, fame or position. It may be something else but that’s what I think it is.

Halftimeonline: What were some of the impressions you had of the artists like Run DMC, KRS, Kane, and Rakim that came through during the period the group was on hiatus?

Mele Mel: I thought a lot of them were pretty good. I’ve always liked Kane. I wouldn’t say I was a great fan of KRS but he was always rock solid. I’m more critical of rappers that you compare from beginning to end but as far as who came along I never thought about it that much because I knew at a certain point a lot of people were gonna come along and be famous and do rap songs. None of that even fazed me. Just like 50 Cent doesn’t faze me. They would see him as being so hot and so important. I don’t see him as a big influential person like that. I don’t even see Eminem as a person like that. He was just the first successful white guy so when other guys came along [it wasn’t a big deal]. Maybe mentally it’s like well yea I think I’m a legend in my own mind but I’m just coming from my position of my importance and knowing who I am whether I make another record or not. To me being hot is not the most important thing. You need it to make money and go down a certain path but being hot doesn’t really faze me. The only time since I’ve been making records that I would say a moment was overwhelming was Sugar Hill Gang and when Michael Jackson made Thriller. Everybody else you know they gonna be hot for a couple years and then they ain’t gonna be hot no more. At one point Das Efx was supposed to change the face of rap. I thought it was bullshit and it turned out it was.

Halftimeonline: Haha!

Mele Mel: Remember how hot Onyx was? They were about as hot as 50 Cent was.  Naughty by Nature was very hot. O.P.P. was very, very hot. Now they ain’t that hot no more. Over time it happens.

Halftimeonline: Who does Mele Mel consider to be the dopest emcees? Any era.

Mele Mel: It’s still me and if you check my stats it’s not going to be anybody else but me. I can still do it, I’ve done it on record, in the studio, in the street, in the cyphas and on stage. Anything big, as far as rap, I’ve done it. The first R&B and rap record, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame my stats are still untouchable. And right now if you put whoever you consider the top ten guys on stage I could knock seven of em off easy. If they know I’m there seven of them might not even show up. People know what it is.

Halftimeonline: Who are the other cats on stage?

Mele Mel: You know what I’m so cocky it wouldn’t even matter to me. I know how good I am in rapping. I’m the greatest of all time and the whole thing started with me. You can’t even have the conversation if my name doesn’t come up. If you take me out of the equation you just got a bunch of guys who had to get it from somewhere and who did they get it from? Then you gotta go back to me. I created the word emcee and I’m the first emcee so just for that you have to include me. As far as good rappers right now I think Nas is pretty rock solid, if Tupac was still around he would have turned out to be pretty rock solid, I think if Jay-Z would ever find something to say he would be decent at least as far as being the greatest. Right now he just rhymes about selling dope. He knows how to rhyme but even on the Beyonce record he’s like “I used to sell…” Who cares? I like the guy but after a while your sitting on a half billion dollars you can evolve them rhymes. You can say something that makes people see a whole different reality. He’s a half billion up and the only thing he can talk about is how he used to sell bass? You’re proud of that? That’s one of your high points? That should not be a high point in your life. That’s not something you even let somebody else know much less let them hear you say it with reverence and pride. Say it and then say but I’m doing a lot better now. Say what it really is. The difference between being good and great is when you can change other people’s perceptions and realities. If people still think the same thing about you now that they thought when you first came out then you’re doing the same thing. If you look at somebody who is considered great they changed people’s perceptions. Jay-Z’s perception is just more of the same. He’s one of those guys stuck in between talking about dope and killing people. He just made it further business wise. That’s why I highly respect him because business wise he did something I never thought a young black man could do. But when you are just talking about music he’s just another guy that if he found something to say he would be alright. I consider guys like that limited. It’s not the greatest thing I ever heard and it’s not the worst.

Halftimeonline: A lot of cats talk about your battles from the battle with KRS to the time you jacked Mickey D for the New Music Seminar freestyle belt. What are some of the most memorable battles that you had?

Mele Mel: Our most memorable battle was when we battled Funky 4 +1. The Mickey D thing and the KRS thing were not even big enough for me to consider it a situation. That’s not even on my Richter scale of hip hop moments. Against Funky 4 + 1 we were at our best practice wise and just how it went down without a hitch. We even changed clothes. A lot of the stuff we did was just ahead of it’s time. The Mickey D and KRS thing there was nothing to even remember. Now the year before when I won the New Music Seminar battle that was a hot battle. It was me, Caz and King Sun that came down in the finals. Everybody came off really nice and I won. To me that was an achievement.

Halftimeonline: We did an interview with Kane and he told us that one time you were mad at Biz Markie and wanted to battle him and he tried to have you battle Kane. Kane said he was ready but you looked at him and said “Go get a record first!” So I can see how we can look at it today as two icons battling but to you it was just some nobody challenging your position.

Mele Mel: Haha. I forgot what that was about. I think he might have said something that I thought was a little cute. We were up in Latin Quarters and Kane was up in there. Like I said I always liked Kane and thought he was talented but Biz did try and be like “I ain’t gonna battle but I’m gonna go get Kane” and I just brushed it off. He was trying to take the focus off of him by pointing at Kane and I was like nah let’s get back to you. But me and Kane are good friends he was always rock solid.

Halftimeonline: So why did you come up with the name Muscles for your new album and what does it mean?

Mele Mel: Well, muscles are just the image. In the Furious Five we always knew we needed a good stage image. I’ve been working out for 20 years and this is an idea I’ve had for 15 years. I just saw a point coming where onstage if you can get the right body type you can take your shirt off and get as much attention or response and somebody screaming. I moved to L.A. to get the grind down and when you are working on your image you have to have an a.k.a. and the one I had for about 3 or 4 years was Arnold Schwarzenigga. As you go along it has to evolve. Then I was talking to this girl and I was talking slick and she said you just a hustler, you’re Hustle Simmons and I said nah I’m Muscles Simmons. Then I just cut it short to Muscles. I just thought it was something that could be the basis for everything that I’m doing right now. I can be kinda grimy but still be health conscious. So when we put the album together that was the obvious title. The first thing we are trying to do is sell a brand and an image. That’s big for kids and people of our era. The main thing is to get through the perception of me being an older rapper. You do that by looking more powerful then the age thing doesn’t come up unless it’s like damn you’re in good shape how old are you? For veterans young people just have to get used to seeing us do what we do. We’ve been out of the spotlight where people aren’t used to seeing us so they won’t come out.

Marcus: What’s your diet like?

Mele Mel: Naturally, I’m not as a big as I am so I can eat just about anything calorie wise. I eat a lot of protein and drink a lot of protein shakes and then I just need the extra calories so I don’t burn off muscle. The main thing I did was stop drinking so I can stay lean. A lot of my calories came from drinking at night. So when I eliminated that I could add a lot of day calories and burn them off during the day. I still have to workout hard and eat a lot of protein. I just have to eat a lot and stay in that gym. The way I see myself amongst pioneers is that I’m the lynchpin. When I stand out there they won’t look at everybody else like they are so old. Kane is still smooth, Dougie Fresh is cool and so is Slick Rick but a lot of cats may have gained weight and stuff. Age is hard to counteract. Age will beat us all one day but the idea I have is to look so strong that if you see a before and after picture I would in some cases look younger now. I beat myself up back then but now I keep myself straight and look younger and stronger. When they look at me they will be like well he can’t be all that old and that’s how they may start to look at other pioneers like Kane, Dougie and Rakim and say they don’t look too different than the guys right now because the guys now are doing what we did back then beating themselves up smoking weed and drinking. These niggas look crazy and they need to calm down.

Marcus: Let me ask you this I’ve hit a wall on my bench press. What advice would you suggest that I can use to get past that?

Mele Mel: You can get your bench stronger if you bring the bar all the way down to your chest. Some people stop five inches above or eight inches above their chest doing half bench but what you have to do is go lighter, shorten your grip a little bit and bring the bar all the way down to your chest. That’s what I’ve been doing to get my bench up. You’re gonna lose at first because you may go down to about 50lbs lighter but in the long run it will make your chest bigger and increase the power by bringing it all the way down to your chest. It’s the same thing with a squat. When you go all the way down that’s where your power comes from.

Halftimeonline: I wanted to ask you about the children’s book you wrote. What sparked that idea?

Mele Mel: The same girl I was talking about when I came up with the Muscles Simmons thing met a woman on the train who was talking about a kid’s book she wanted to do and she needed a rapper to write it. We talked around it for a while but the woman was real persistent in calling. She mainly needed a song. She had hooks and titles here and there and we’d get together and work on the project. It seemed like something decent to do. Then I did the narration for the book. It’s called Portal in the Park and it’s like a self help book for kids 6-10 having problems dealing with their emotions, family and being accepted. We also did an exercise video that was sold along with it. Fitness is another thing I’m branching out into. I go to all of the body building shows and over the years learned a lot about training and being healthy. It’s not hard to get in shape it’s hard to stay in shape. It’s a lifestyle change. For me it’s about being in a certain condition for the rest of your life. If you look at Jack Lalanne he was like 90 and looked like he was 60. I don’t know if I’ll last that long but if I do I want to be in his condition. I see people who are 90 and they look every bit of that 90. When you got someone wiping your butt that ain’t what I want somebody having to do when I’m 90.

Halftimeonline: You take any particular supplements?

Mele Mel: Protein, creatine, everything they sell over the counter I’ve tried it. If you come by my apartment its half canisters of all kinds of shit that ain’t work but you gotta try it. I tried the Nitric Oxide that works really good. N.O. and creatine definitely works.

Halftimeonline: So what’s up with this wrestling career you trying to start. You gonna be in WWE soon?

Mele Mel: Oh yea definitely. What happened was we went to this wrestling school out in Georgia called Deep South Wrestling just to see if I could take the falls. After we went through the school they had some reservations about my age but the thing about wrestling is they’ll let anybody wrestle but they won’t let everybody wrestle. If you have a big enough name like Kevin Federline wrestling John Cena. So if he can wrestle I can definitely wrestle. It’s just name recognition. If my name was Grand Master Flash I’d be in the ring right now.  So once I up my profile a little bit [it’s cool], I know I can do it and they know I can do it. I want to take hip hop to another level and the WWE thing can do that. And for kids who listen to hip hop but not know about wrestling they can learn another aspect of being tough. Right now they just hearing about pulling out pistols. But you gotta be tough to wrestle. It’s something I definitely want to do and have wanted to do for years. I just need to put on a little more size to do it. I’ve met John Cena he is about 2 or 3 inches taller than me but I’m just as thick as him right now.  I’m 205 now but that’s all muscle. I stay lean I’m at about 10% body fat. I don’t even do cardio. I just started jumping rope to get my wind a little better. I can’t even jump rope too much because I’ll start losing muscle mass. My whole thing is looking big and thick. Not like LL or 50 Cent they were real slim and looked big to other people but they looked more like models with a better back. I want to look prison big.

Halftimeonline: Haha, So what’s up with your next project?

Mele Mel: Originally all of the furious five were gonna do a project together but I stay in the studio and I’m always writing verses and phrases. So when the Furious Five thing didn’t come off I went and did this project. K.D., who did the song ‘Fly Girls,’ produced 13 of the 16 songs on the album. It’s the best body of work I’ve done. We got some Mele Mel songs, some songs like today, and some songs people might not write anything like for 10 or 12 years. It’s a good well rounded album and you can party to a lot of it and it’s got some good messages. It’s an album that needs to be heard. It’s got a lot of concepts and if nothing else they’ll say I had a lot on my mind when I recorded it. The production is up to date and there aren’t any samples on the album and no features. So what I’m trying to do is re-establish myself not only as an artist but a production team and record label. We’re showing you how to put an album together and promote an artist. A lot of these cats come out and have a bunch of features and promote the album but not the artist. That’s why they don’t last past that second album because nobody really knew who they were because they had so many features.

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