Every hip-hop head knows the legend of MC Shan. The man went at Krs-One, challenged the Bronx, and brought attention to the MC breeding ground that is Queensbridge. The names that follow him from that area — Nas, Nature, Cormega, Mobb Deep, to name just a few — are inescapable. Some hip-hop heads might be aware that Shan produced 12 Inches Of Snow, the album that birthed the catchy hit single, “Informer.” However, few people might be aware of his musical background, and talents for writing in multiple genres beyond that collaboration. From his early days in the Juice Crew, to current projects, Shan is not afraid to speak his mind and go at a few heads.
This summer sees Shan bringing something old and something new to the table. To mark the 20th Anniversary of its original release, Down By Law, has been repackaged with bonus material. Shan also has a new project dropping this July, You Love To Hear The Story, giving fans a chance to find out what he’s thinking about today and he will be going on tour to promote the album.
Ballerstatus caught up with Shan to talk about the past, present and future, and to share a few laughs.
Ballerstatus.com: I want to start real quick with this; I’ve been doing my background research, checking the all music guide and that, and the story that keeps coming up is that you were discovered while trying to steal a car. Is there truth to that?
MC Shan: Yeah, I kind of figured you were going to say that. I was going to ask you, you didn’t know anything about me? ‘Cause, they was saying send him the cd, and I wanted to know, if he doesn’t know anything about me why is he doing the interview? What is he going to ask me?
Ballerstatus.com: I wanted to know about the bonus tracks, actually, and I hadn’t heard those. I obviously know about you, and I would hope that most people would have some inkling as to who you are that have grown up with hip-hop. I wanted to ask you about the story, because I find it funny that it is the first thing that comes up in all the hip-hop encyclopedias.
MC Shan: That’s the first thing that pops up there?
MC Shan: I got the cd for you. I’ll send it, I just been lazy about it.
Ballerstatus.com: I need a new copy to bump.
MC Shan: Yeah, definetly. And, it’s on cd now and got some cool bonus tracks.
Ballerstatus.com: I want to ask a few questions that are for the benefit of the readers who might not know much about you. So, is that story true?
MC Shan: Yeah, it went a little different way, you know what I’m saying? But, that’s basically how it went down. To sum it up for people.
Ballerstatus.com: Well, it’s been 20 years since Down By Law first released. Can you believe that hip-hop is still going strong?
MC Shan: I wouldn’t have questioned it back then. I was always a hip-hop advocate. So it was like, I wouldn’t have thought otherwise. There’s no shock, no surprise, none of the above.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you think that the tracks will resonate with younger listeners?
MC Shan: I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe for nostalgic reasons. But, they need to cop the new album if they want to know what MC Shan be spitting like for 2007. They go cop the new album. You can go get Down By Law for all nostalgic reasons, that’s a definite must. For all nostalgic reasons go get that!
Ballerstatus.com: And the new album is coming out later this year?
MC Shan: It is coming out July, end of July. It’s called You Love To Hear The Story.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you produce that, or you got some other producers on there?
MC Shan: I got other producers on there. I don’t really like producing myself, and having my own input on, you know, basically a lot of the stuff. I like to have other peoples input on the stuff I’m doing.
Ballerstatus.com: That’s interesting. Do you produce the type of tracks that you like to rhyme over?
MC Shan: No, because it could be any track. It doesn’t mean because I made it, it means something to me. I could turn on something that somebody else made that just makes a whole song come to my head. Because, I don’t just write and rhyme over things, it’s something to it when I write down a song, its something behind it. You know, even if I’m spitting freestyle there’s something behind what I’m saying.
Ballerstatus.com: You have any guests on the album?
MC Shan: Nope.
MC Shan: I got new cats. All that guest appearances, forget that, I ain’t with that. They charge you $20,000. You want me on your joint? It’ll cost you $20,000. Come on, what’s with all that?
Ballerstatus.com: Do you feel that’s something that sours the community feel of hip-hop?
MC Shan: No. sh**, if you can afford the 20, pay it up. But, I can’t afford the 20, so I guess I won’t have no guest appearances right now. Catch me on the next album. And even then, I don’t need no guests. F*** all that, I do my own sh**. I can hold down a whole three verses on my own, I don’t need nobody to hold up half of my songs for me. A lot of cats, there’s four of you on a song. Come on, what’s that a quarter of a verse each? I can do whole a whole song start to beginning. Eight different songs, all me, all everything, and have enough creativity to write all the words, all the verses, everything. You feel me?
Ballerstatus.com: Yup. And, you were one of the first MCs to come with real concept records, like “Cocaine” for example; do you think you’re not recognized enough for that?
MC Shan: No, listen it’s like, right now, people are starting to look over things and recognize who did what, and what was what, why things happened. Writers like you are mentioning these things, but I’m like, it’s not a big deal to me. I sit back and think “what the hell?” a metaphor is a metaphor. It’s like a great book, one book, write another one. You want someone to remember something, write something new. That’s what I always say. Forget all that. Write something new. You want to be in the limelight, do something new, forget all that old stuff. Respect me for what I did, but what I’m about to do is what you better watch for.
Ballerstatus.com: That said, I want to ask you a few questions about your memories in hip-hop, because its not often I get to talk to some of the older guys, the legends like yourself. I always cherish those opportunities, so if you don’t mind I’d like to ask some questions about the past.
MC Shan: It’s not a problem.
Ballerstatus.com: This question relates a little to the future and current events too. There is a lot of chatter about mixtapes, but I don’t think a lot of people understand the history of mixtapes. They know about the mixtape album, and the CDs. I wondered if you would share you earliest memory and recollection of mixtapes.
MC Shan: I don’t know where that mixtape sh** came in, to tell you the truth. I don’t know what the hell that is about. Matter of fact, I don’t even know where that mixtape thing came about, then it came a point where the actual mixtapes f***ed sh** up. Tell you the truth, ’cause now you can’t get a deal unless your sh** was heard on a mixtape. If you wasn’t on a mixtape, the record companies wouldn’t listen to you. Then they start the motherf***ing unsolicited demo sh**. Excuse me for talking this way, with French, but y’all motherf***ers with the mixtapes, y’all f***ed up the game with that bullsh**. You know. That’s the way I feel about it, and that’s what I see that mixtape sh** about. Nowadays mixtapes is a good thing, because it gives the individual artist a chance to get their thing out. But when it first came out, it f***ed up the game for a lot of people, it changed the way the game is played. Everyday something new comes up that changes the way this music game is played. The internet and so on and so on, but the mixtape was the first thing f***ing them up.
Ballerstatus.com: That’s interesting to hear. Do you think on the flipside the mixtape was important for spreading the gospel that hip-hop is a hot form of music?
MC Shan: Look, now, right now mixtapes is a great thing. Unsigned cats get heard, get some money and all that. Nothing wrong with the mixtape game, ain’t knocking nobodies hustle. As mixtapes came in and changed the game back early, it wasn’t about making 100,000 mixtapes. All that came now. When that mixtape bullsh** came in the beginning and the DJ became bigger than the artist that they was spinning on their cds. Talking ’bout, “Yo listen to my cd.” N**** that’s someone else song you’re playing. Talking ’bout “your CD.” And you bigger than the artists now. It don’t make me no difference, I’m going to say what I’m going to say regardless.
Ballerstatus.com: I also like to ask people of your stature and longevity what your earliest memory in hip-hop was. I guess your earliest memory was from day one, but when did you come to understand that hip-hop existed?
MC Shan: Well, listen; it was just part of the hood. In the ghetto it’s just what it is, its just there. If you listen in the backwoods and you hear country music (Shan impersonates a guitar twang), that’s what it is. It’s nothing to think about, it’s just a way of life. It’s nothing to think about, you grow up on hip-hop. My earliest recollection, that’s what it was, from my age group, that’s what it was, it hasn’t been different since.
Ballerstatus.com: Has it been fun for you to watch styles change, and people come back the golden era rap sound?
MC Shan: Well, it needs to be more creative, I know that. A little bit more creative, because everyone can wear jewelry and talk about cars and all that crap. Everybody can do that. It’s cool, and there is a listening audience for all that, but I ain’t listening to that bullsh**.
Ballerstatus.com: Who are you checking for?
MC Shan: I’m checking for my own artists, something I’m about to put out. I ain’t listening to the radio, because that’s all programmed bullsh** again. You hear the same thing 24/7. I ain’t listening to that bullsh** either.
Ballerstatus.com: What can I expect when I hear your guys?
MC Shan: You going to hear just lyrical… You’ll just have to take it for what it is, talent. That’s what it’s going to be, talent. It’s going to be someone, and when you ask them to sing, they are going to sing. It’s not going to be auto tuned. They are not going to have their voices auto tuned to sing. You ask them to sing something; they are going to blow the roof off. That’s what’s missing.
Ballerstatus.com: I totally agree with that.
MC Shan: Real talent. It’s like every other song, you get that little, and everyone thinks that shear effect is cool. That sh** is bullsh**. You auto tuning, what the f***, ain’t no real singing. You know the funny thing? The real funny thing. I was sitting there watching Tavis Smiley last night, just flipping through the channels. I’m not usually a Tavis Smiley watcher, but Etta James was on there. Old singer, Etta James and she did some songs at the end of the thing. Man, that right there is wisdom and talent and the whole nine. She just was flowing these songs. The keys, the notes and all that stuff. It’s just the talent is not there like that anymore. The talent, the singing. She’ll hang out with Beyonce and teach her some stuff. From a chair, sitting position. Real talent, that’s what’s missing. Beyonce, she can sing, I don’t give a f*** what nobody say, she got a nice looking badonkadonk, but goddamn, she can really do her thing.
Ballerstatus.com: Outside of hip-hop, what have your musical influences been?
MC Shan: All kind of music. I know the Eagles, I know a whole bunch of things. I’m not stuck in a rut, that would be a mistake. Just to blindside myself and look at one kind of thing, I like all kinds of music.
Ballerstatus.com: I got to speak with Bun B a few weeks ago, and he said he grew up with a lot of metal and punk, and I wondered if metal and punk had any influence on you?
MC Shan: Listen, on my first, not my first album, I’ve had rock n’ roll songs on my albums. I named one of my albums, Born To Be Wild. Where you think I got that from? Steppenwolf. If that don’t say something. I had records like that. And, plus I done reggae. I have all sorts of influences in my music. I’ve done rock and roll. I got a rock and roll version of “Queens Bridge” on my album that I did with Sum 41. Sum 41 did the music. And we redid “The Bridge,” rock and roll. So that should tell you how much I’m into other music.
Ballerstatus.com: You just mention two things, reggae music and Canadians, so you know what’s next?
MC Shan: What’s that?
MC Shan: Yeah?
Ballerstatus.com: I know a little about the story of how that came about. Was it a stretch for you at all to produce those records for him, and were you involved in any of the sound clash culture in New York when you were coming up?
MC Shan: When I was coming up, there were Jamaicans that lived all around me. I listened to Yellowman. I was one of the first rap artists, in the rap music, to do a reggae song, on my first album, Down By Law. There’s a reggae song on there, you dig what I’m saying? It was years and years before Snow. So, as far as reggae is concerned, it’s there. And, just to do him was weird. Because here comes this white guy, Irish, spitting that sh**, and I’m like “Whoa…”
Ballerstatus.com: Yeah, growing up the first time I saw him I was shocked, to say the least.
MC Shan: Yeah, but he shocked me. When I hooked up with him, we recorded “Informer” the very next day.
Ballerstatus.com: Incredible. How’d you hook up with him?
MC Shan: How? At the weed spot, to tell you the truth. His DJ was in New York, he said, “I know a white guy that does reggae.” I said, “Yeah f*** that, prove it.”
Ballerstatus.com: That’s an incredible story.
MC Shan: I’ve done records with Snow other than “Informer,” where we changed up his whole style and went rock and roll.
Ballerstatus.com: For real?
MC Shan: Yes.
Ballerstatus.com: That’s awesome. How did you end up hooking up with Sum 41?
MC Shan: Their Canadian. We were recording on of Snow’s albums up there, and we took it a little rock n’ roll. This was before Sum 41 blew up. They were just lil’ Greg and them to me, and lil’ Greg is married to what’s her name, Avril, now. It was Greg, the Indian guitarist, and they were little kids. That’s how I hooked up with them before they became big. They showed me how to do rock n roll, I showed them how to do hip-hop. Their first album, I actually got writers on that, and that joint on “Spiderman” that they got “Ahh, that’s what we’re all about, that’s what we live for,” I wrote that sh** with them.
Ballerstatus.com: Unbelievable, I had no idea about that.
MC Shan: If you look at the credits on it, you’ll see me. “Ahh, that’s what were all about, that’s what we live for.” I showed them how to rhyme; they showed me how to produce rock n’ roll music. How to mic up those amps and how to make crazy ill hook ups that make it sound like you got an ill studio going on when you don’t. Man, please.
Ballerstatus.com: It’s amazing that you’ve had such an opportunity to mingle with people in different genres, and not just meet them, but to learn and work with them.
MC Shan: Look, I did a reggae song with Marky Mark and his boy Joe. When Marky Mark, when Mark Wahlberg was still doing music, I produced a song for one of his people. He used to come to the studio with that fire weed.
Ballerstatus.com: For real?
MC Shan: Yeah, he used to come with a knapsack full of that sh**.
Ballerstatus.com: That’s incredible.
MC Shan: I’m not trying to blow you up Mark Wahlberg, or Marky Mark as I used to know him. That motherf***er had some weed, used to come this that sh** in a knapsack. Mark Wahlberg.
Ballerstatus.com: You have any other crazy stories from the studio?
MC Shan: I got plenty of ’em, but I couldn’t tell them. I would get too many people in trouble.
Ballerstatus.com: Has there ever been an artist you watched in the studio that made you drop your jaw and re-evaluate what you were doing on the mic?
MC Shan: Hell no. I see something that’s nice and say, “Yeah, he’s nice.” It might make me write something, you know what I’m saying, ’cause that thing he put down there sound hot, and I might need to write something. There will always be someone out there. For real, I’m not trying to be too funny. Someone out there, for real, you’ll listen and be like, “Damn, I got to go step my game up.”
Ballerstatus.com: Does that come from… a lot of people know you from your battle mentality and going at KRS and LL.
MC Shan: And, I’m still like that. But, see nowadays you can’t be like that because they’ll call you a hater. That hater is always made so motherf***ers wouldn’t talk about him. “Oh, you’re a hater.” No, I’m not a hater, you’re sh** is bullsh**, for real.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you happen to catch KRS and 50 on “Rap City” a couple weeks ago?
MC Shan: Yeah, I seen him and Marly and Kris on there.
Ballerstatus.com: What does that make you feel with him bigging up KRS for that battle when you started it?
MC Shan: I’m like, “Yo KRS, stop thanking Marley, I made that record.” Marley didn’t want to do the next record, that’s why people think he got me on that “Bridge Is Over.” I wanted to make another record, but Marley was like “No, no, you going to make him more famous.” Marley was the producer; I wouldn’t let nobody get away with no sh** like that. F*** that. I’m happy to see they was doing sh** together. Me and Kris been doing sh** for years already, ’bout time he and Marley did some sh** together. Me and Kris did Sprite commercials, we toured all over the place back in the day. It’s about time him and Marley f***ing did something.
Ballerstatus.com: I read you were an extra with Steve Martin on “LA STORY.”
MC Shan: Oh, you definetly do your homework. Like I was an extra, I wasn’t an extra, I had a part, and I still get paid when it comes on cable. I was the rapping waiter, more than five lines. See when you have more than five lines, you get SAG (Screen Actors Guild). I had a verse and a half, so I was definetly in there. I can work Hollywood.
Ballerstatus.com: You got any film or television in the works for the future?
MC Shan: Yes, but I can’t speak on it right now.
Ballerstatus.com: Ok. In that case, do you have a favorite 80s comedy movie that isn’t “LA Story?”
MC Shan: Um, I don’t know. “Dude, Where’s My Car.”
Ballerstatus.com: Not “Armed and Dangerous with…”
MC Shan: John Candy. I don’t know, I don’t really remember them things. I barely remember what happened yesterday. Just playing.
Ballerstatus.com: You going on tour with the new album.
MC Shan: Oh yeah, most definetly. A few spot dates now. And this is what I do, right, I got my old songs, I’m Juice Crew All-Stars, but they got beats like this right now, that “Party Like A Rock Star.” (The beat emerges through the speakers). Now check me, check me, that’s that Rockstar star sh**, but I’m a Juice Crew All Star, Juice Crew All Star. That’s how I do my show, with new sh** like this. (Shan spits)
Never say a rhyme that’s less than hoopin’
Beauty queens are the girls I’m scoopin’
This is just a small rap representation
Down with the Juice since the basic foundation
Blinded to the sight, to the touch I’m scorchin’
Rhymes so def that they’re worth a fortune
See I’m just taking new sh**, and throwing my old sh** over it, just bringing flavor like that. Boom. That’s going to be on my show. Just mixing my flavors up, they have no idea what I’m about to do this year.