FOREWARD BY NICK DONNELLY
As video producers we touched on police brutality when we teamed up with So Solid Crew’s Swiss to make Bad Boys Remix Part One and Two that featured the elite in UK rap from Charlie Sloth and Krept to Akala, Klashnekoff and Blak Twang but when it comes to addressing these issues nobody has been more prominent in music history than NWA.
We started Urban Kingdom inspired by the raw uncensored energy of 1990’s US Hip Hop and so it is an incredible honour to present a collaboration with a Hip Hop legend that challenged political boundaries like no other group has been able to do commercially. Today we present to you an exclusive interview with Urban Kingdom’s editor Magz Jackson and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2016 Inductee and founder member of NWA, DJ Yella.
INTERVIEW BY MAGZ JACKSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAULINE BLANCHET
How are you finding the UK so far?
I like it, I mean London is bigger than before; it’s faster paced than LA, faster paced than New York I love it.
You came to London a while back with NWA, what are your memories of being in London back then?
Being drunk probably, turning in…. out….. I remember having fun when we were at Brixton. We did pretty well, I don’t remember too much though it was quite a while ago. I know it was fun though. Im a LA native but I can really get it with any country, I love the world.
Tell me the backstory behind your name “DJ Yella”?
It actually came from a track, do you remember the genius of love song? Is was a 12 inch album when it first came out and the back of it was called “Yella” and the first thing you heard was “yellaa” and my buddy gave me that name and I’ve been having it ever since.
Amongst many of the things NWA are known for, speaking on police brutality is very well known and prominent one. What are your thoughts on the very current issue of police brutality today?
Well the problem is, it’s the same thing that been going on from before, it just looks like it’s more because people got camera’s , phones . It’s the same thing, it hasn’t been stopped. Until they really convict a cop and give them 100 years or 50 years or something real drastic it’s not gonna ever change. You have got to stop it at the source. Some of the cops, not all of the cops but some step over the line and they are criminals and they are really gonna have to clamp down and convict someone. That’s what they gotta do.
The solution is to find them guilty, the ones that break the law, find them guilty. They gotta convict them, that’s the only way you gonna slow it down.
Do you think musicians within hip-hop in particular have a duty to shed light on issues such as police brutality?
Ermm, l mean look at me do I look like a role model? It isn’t just musicians everybody should, you know you gotta care for people, you gotta love everybody. See I learnt to love everybody even enemies if I had some. I love em all now.
What is your opinion on hip-hop producer using button pushers rather than turn tables?
You know something I push buttons myself now. It’s just moving with the times, vinyl’s are old, they are outdated, I mean they are good for a battles or things like that but think about it even the battles are not using real vinyl, they are using laptops to control the vinyl’s. The days of real vinyl like that are over. I mean, me, I can’t travel with that stuff, that’s like three, four bags of luggage and they will charge you an arm and leg. You just gotta keep up with the times. I use the pioneer DDJ SX and it’s the closest thing you can get to a turntable. I got 10000 songs on my laptop and I can carry all of the music in the world. It’s just simple and easy plus it sounds better. It’s the same with recording in the studio, it’s all digital now.
You just have to change with the times, it may not look as pretty as turn tables but it’s the same thing.
What were your favourite sampled track?
All the ones we got sued by (laughs). George Clinton, James Brown. We were the poster kids for everybody getting sued, we were the originators. (laughs)
So what were the samples that you wanted but couldn’t get clearance for?
Herbie Hancock. Listen to this, he called us in the studio and told us we couldn’t use the sample. I look right at Dre, he picked up the call and said we couldn’t use it. It was for the song “she swallowed it”. Originally it was his sample on there, we had to replay and play something else on there but there was a sample on that song first. He called the studio and said no, straight up cos he didn’t like he morals of the song.
As a producer who has never really lent his voice to the record, how do you generally find it doing interviews?
Now I talk more, back then I didn’t talk much. I used to like the background. You know the producers they do everything and I didn’t like to be in the lime light, I didn’t care about lime light. Now though, I talk more, sometimes too much (laughs)
What was it like being in NWA at its peak?
You know what’s so crazy, we didn’t reach our peak back then, we are reaching it now. The movie made hundreds of millions, we paused 26 years ago when the group broke up. When the albums went number one we weren’t together. We didn’t grow old, or outdated or fade away we just paused. It was great, it was fun. It’s a fraternity that nobody can get into. It was 5 people now its four- cant nobody get in, it’s a fraternity.
The money issues that NWA got into got quite a lot of press, if the money issues weren’t as huge as they were, do you think NWA would still be together?
No, we had to break up. If we would have stayed together we would have fell off. We stopped right before we peaked, I’m telling you. We broke up at number 1, nobody breaks up at number 1, everybody breaks up when then not on the charts. We broke at and number 1 and its amazing.
Hip-hop music has changed a lot since NWA ,What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop?
It’s different. It’s changed a lot, everyone sounds the same. It always will change but the thing about it now is there are no more groups. Everybody is a solo artists with feature guests but hopefully, now, after the impact of movie settles, we can bring it back to the old style. Everybody sound the same, the producers, the voice. Some people break out, you know Game, Kendrick Lamar, Drake.
A few people break away from the pack but most peoples in the pack and they all sound the same. Dre is still Dre , Cube is still Cube. I like old school, I listen to old school, that’s all I’m gonna say (laughs)
NWA were bold. Say what you will but they were bold and straight to the point- how to you feel about boldness in hip-hop artistry today, if indeed you think there still is boldness?
Well you know something, it was so different back then. We started something that we didn’t know we started. We just did what we wanted to do and we just stood out. We didn’t think about it, if we were to have thought about it, we wouldn’t have made it. Talking about the police how we did, that is bold, I don’t mean to brag or anything but I haven’t heard anybody speak about it like that. They just talk about the usual, women, sex but hopefully it will change and get back to how it was. Because you know, hip-hop is still here, it aint never going nowhere. Hip-hop is there to stay.
What is your proudest music accomplishment to date?
I guess producing all NWA , Eazy E. JJ Fad too, that was our first gold album and single, producing Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I would say NWA and having a film about us, it’s crazy, I’m still amazed.
What was your thoughts on the film then?
The movie was good, the movie was as close as you could get. It’s a movie, so you had to change some characters and you put 10 years into 2 and half hours that was hard to do. We had to cut out some stuff but we tried to keep the best of it. Me and Cube talked about what we could have done to make it better and the answer is nothing, it was close. The weird thing was talking to my character, he talked like me (laughs), he studied me. People were shocked when they saw the movie, they just thought it was gonna be another rap movie but no. This movie included sadness, happiness, everything, it wasn’t a low budget movie. It broke records, it’s amazing.
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