Rapper Slangston Hughes talks with Doc G about keeping the PM Dawn bliss alive without Prince Be.
[Updated] I hadn’t thought about PM Dawn in years, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the psychedelic hip-hop duo playing The Howlin’ Wolf late last year. It turns out that neither original member of PM Dawn perform under that name anymore. Prince Be has suffered two strokes, and he turned the name over to Doc G, who now keeps the name alive.
PM Dawn returns to The Howlin’ Wolf’s Den Friday night. Recently, emcee Slangston Hughes interviewed Doc G for My Spilt Milk, talking about hip-hop history, comics, the transition within the group, and more. Thanks to Slang for the conversation and help.
Slangston Hughes: How do you implement that name within your music besides shouting it out on songs, do you implement the meaning of the name within your music?
Doc G: I'm not really sure if I have officially implemented the name yet. It's not really for me about implementing my individual name so much as it's about bringing my crew back and letting people know that the squad is still here.
In a recent article you say you're "maintaining the bliss" or carrying on that PM Dawn torch. How do you feel you do that and continue on the PM Dawn legacy besides just performing some of the classic cuts as well as your original music?
I try to run the squad the same way if I would if I worked in K-Mart or Target: The customer is the number one priority. The customer is always right. When it comes to the fans, I refer to them as Docaholics. I try to get my Cal Ripken on. I make sure I stay there. Make sure everybody has the autograph, that picture that they want or that video. I try to give everybody their moment. I want them to remember that we love them, are here for them and appreciate them. I need them to back me and trust me not to crash this plane.
Speaking of new music, you were saying it was going to be a really good year for Doc G. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
We're going to be dropping an album called Welcome to the Far Universe. I'm looking to forward to having some fun again, to unleashing the bliss on everybody. I went through a lot and it took a lot to record this new album. I want to get in touch with people and say, "PM Dawn is alive."
Coincidentally enough today is the last day of the Wizard World Comic Con. I read that you were running with an idea of possibly having Prince Be onstage in a Professor X-esque motif in the chair. Do you read comics?
Honestly, I love the hidden love stories in a lot of comics that I grew up reading. Even though I don't have it anymore, I remember vividly, one of the greatest love stories I've ever read was the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine graphic novel.
Both of those characters are a kind of a yin and yang with Spider-Man having that wholesome, great power/greater responsibility where as Wolverine is the complete opposite and has been through so much living for three plus centuries so he's seen and done it all.
On the DC side, remember the Detective Comics Year One books 1-4? That was the "Fear of the Reaper" storyline. The biggest travesty ever created was "The Mask of The Phantasm" [animated movie]. If they would've done that situation correctly, it would've been a beautiful thing. You have Bruce Wayne who gets his ass handed to him by this guy, the Reaper!
This old man, more or less.
Yep, that's right. It shook him up so much he started walking around with a gun for a minute. Now you have one where, a dude who's dark like Wolverine but doesn't kill, gets in a near death situation and where he actually starts questioning what he believes. I can relate to that. You start feeling so crazy that you feel like your real face is a face that people aren't use to seeing everyday, and the real mask is what you use to blend in with the normal.
With the new music that's getting ready to drop, what would you say is the most poignant song that you feel people can relate to or the one where you put everything out there musically from what you've gone through and hashes out all the demons?
I would say it's the song that I have, "O.D." It was hard to really put myself out there, but you have to be willing to be honest and embrace your weakness sometimes. In my case as an individual, my biggest Kryptonite really was losing my wife and kids. I learned from Prince Be. He said, “Listen, if you're going to talk about these things, don't talk about them in terms of finality.” I try to tell the story and end it on a positive so that there is some hope, some light at the end of the tunnel. There is a light that eventually leads you out of the darkness. I'm starting to see that within myself right now.
Switching gears, if you wouldn't mind giving some brief background of your introduction into the PM Dawn fold. Correct me if I'm wrong, this is '05 when the original members did the Hit Me Baby One More Time show?
That's an accurate statement. When Be and I were teenagers, we discussed linking up musically and creating a squad. Unfortunately back in '89 going into '90, I was growing up in Far Rockaway, Queens. My aunt moved to Jersey City, but we both visited each other almost every weekend. But I had gotten into a situation where there was a little punk drug dealer and me graduating high school. I guess the guy thought he was going to beat me up on the bus and didn't realize the bus driver was my stepfather. When he and his boys [attacked], my stepfather pulled the bus over and we beat the shit out of them. It was like the nerds had finally won. A couple of days later, he puts a hit out on me in the neighborhood and I couldn't stay. I went to the Navy. After some time, "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" dropped. Prince Be used his resources and somehow located me in Sicily and was trying to get me to go AWOL. I told him “I can’t” since that's an dishonorable discharge. Valentine's Day '92, my mother sent me a photo of KRS-One and the 40 guys onstage assaulting them. To this day, other artists still come up to me and apologize. That's when I said, “I can let go of [the Navy] and this will never happen again.”
Did you learn or take anything of value from your time in the Navy and interpret it into a business model or something you could implement into your music?
The only thing I took from the Navy that really gave me any help with my music was the ability to fall asleep anywhere, and the ability to stay awake and run on fumes for 20 to 30-hour intervals. The Summer of Bliss, in 2006 with Prince Be's health really deteriorating, where the poor guy couldn't drive. I was smoking Newport Menthol 100s, drinking a blueberry hazelnut Dunkin Donuts coffee with the turbo shot and after that's finished you know I gotta wash it down with a 5-Hour Energy and a Red Bull.
That's a crazy combination of cocktails right there.
We are not and never were the drug guys. At the end of the day, we were just a bunch of nerdy fans who grew up idolizing Run-DMC, Dougie Fresh, anybody Queens for me, Big Daddy Kane. Hell, even KRS and Just Ice. When I saw how close to me that hip-hop was taking place and then I saw DMC with the big, giant glasses, I'm like, “Goddammit, he looks like me. I can do this!”
I know you mentioned your father earlier, and I read that a couple of Prince Be's uncles were DJs out of New Jersey. Was your father a DJ at one point in time?
Uncle Timothy - King Tim as we called him - moved in with Be's mom because he didn't get along too well with my grandmother. He would bring various records home and put that battery in all of our backs. For me, it was more my late uncle, Uncle Deedee, James Sylvestacarr. He actually showed me how to do some things behind the turntables and got me wanting to rap. After hearing the Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight," I'm like, “Yeah, I like this. This feels normal to me.”
It was hard to do this a couple of years ago without breaking down because I'm so used to cutting my neck to the left and seeing my best friend. And then you don't see him. If you go on my YouTube website and you see the show in Manila in 2010. I did this unreleased song, “Peace With You” and when I realized I was in front of 50,000 and tried to cut my neck to the right and realized he wasn't there, I almost started crying onstage. I had to train myself like “Yo, you got to do this now.”
As far as the "Hit Me Baby" thing goes, that came about when Prince Be contacted me like, “Look man, I want you there. I want you involved." The whole situation was shocking because me and Prince Be's wife never got along, but they both alluded to me that they needed me to step up and that JC couldn't be trusted anymore. And I was like, “Wow, what the hell is going on?” When it comes to the classics, Be wrote/produce the whole damn thing alone and JC was just along for the ride, so the only thing he had in his corner was being loyal and when he stopped being loyal, it was like, “Why are you here man?”
I remember taking charge of some things behind the scenes. I was putting my Queens B-Boy, DMC incorporating that into PM Dawn. It was fun. It was magic. This is what we were supposed to do from the jump. I got with these cats over at Cleopatra Records and I was like, “okay.” I was blessed to find some young guns from the Gulf Coast and started writing again and I didn't stop. It felt great. That's an accurate statement, the Hit Me Baby performance was the birth of the Doc of the Dawn.
Like a moment of clarity?
It really was. People think KRS One was an enemy of PM Dawn. Nah, nah, nah. My biggest enemy is diabetes, lupus, cancer. I wish they were rappers because I wouldn't try to battle them; I'd just try to kill them.
With your upcoming show this Friday at the Howlin' Wolf on Friday, is this your first time in New Orleans?
I actually did a show there in 2006 at the House of Blues and I met Dan Ackroyd. I'm sitting there and I see him. I remember the stories my big brother, Shock G (Digital Underground) would tell me, so I told him we have someone in common in Shock. I was so happy to be in the same room with him. When I come out there, I asked the crowd how did it feel when the New Orleans Saints beat the Falcons in your newly renovated Superdome. “To a large applause I performed "Moving Up."
That's an easy way to win over a Saints crowd.
Now, I'd have to say my greatest memory was December 28 [last year] that night while I was in the audience after the show, and some fans had come up to me and told me, “Doc, I came here to see you and thank you for keeping it going. Tell Prince Be I love him. You need a place to stay or someone to cook you a meal….” It was real and it was love. I got to deal with fans in New Orleans on an intimate level. It brought tears to my eyes, and I never stopped appreciating it and don't take it for granted.
That's real cool when someone can appreciate you as an individual and an artist especially that it happened here in New Orleans.
I love New Orleans so much. I feel like I'm in the wrong place being in Biloxi.
Well, you're only an hour or so away, so...
I feel like I need to live out there, man! I have my spots. I love Dreamie Weenies. I know where to get a daiquiri. New Orleans is like a hardcore, more intense version of New York. When it's time to maintain the bliss, that's the super suit. There's a Clark Kent in me that needs to exist. My children need health care. I need to never want to be a male diva, so working other gigs keeps me humble.
Are you familiar with Childish Gambino?
Not necessarily, but he did like a remake or something?
Right. Hip-hop is in a weird, place of transition where everything moves so fast, so social media-accentuated. As soon as that video popped up, it was everywhere within the last two days. And in correlation of doing this interview with you with it popping up in the last two days. Do you have any thoughts in regards to him covering "I'd Die Without You"? Had you seen it?
I haven't seen it yet, but I'm glad he did it and I retweeted it. I'm not a hater. I don't care if he sounds better than me or my boy. I retweeted it because it's love.
At the end of the day, it goes back to the ethos of "maintaining the bliss."
I look forward to giving him his moment. Who knows, maybe he'll be at the show and ask me for the 10 minutes of my time that Darrell McDaniels [of Run DMC] gave me back in 2005 when I broke down in tears and told him, “You're my hero, and I do this because of you. You gotta promise you'll never quit” - despite losing his voice. He and Run were my Batman and Robin growing up and he understood it. He knows that role, especially to kids from Queens. I don't have to be here. I don't have to be alive. I don't have to be doing none of this. It's a privilege. To be able to put a microphone in your hand and speak on a stage is a privilege. That's what alot of cats forget or just don't understand that at all. It don't matter if you getting five dollars or five million. Don’t ever take it for granted!
I often ask the torchbearers and the cats who've come before us what advice would you give? That pretty much sums it up right there.
Hip-hop doesn't owe me shit. Doesn't owe Prince Be anything. We. Owe. Hip-hop. We owe rap. We owe people, fans. We owe every genre of music that you have to sample to create Hip-hop. That's my mentality and I believe that that mentality will deliver me in the long run.
Updated 8:44 p.m.
PM Dawn's House of Blues in 2006 was not in December, so the text has been changed to correct this misunderstanding. The photo has also been changed to a more current photo.