Kool G. Rap Speaks on The Making Of ‘Live And Let Die’
Giancana tells the tales behind an underrated classic, 25 years later
Kool G. Rap is not just an influential figure in the art of MCing. Nor is he simply just a pioneer of rap music. Although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, G Rap is quite literally a pillar of this culture we call hip hop. He makes up part of the very foundation of this thing of ours. Without this Genius of Rap, the sound of hip hop would be very different today.
Along with Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, Kool G makes up the holy trinity of the Golden Era. These masters of ceremony are the prototypes for the modern lyricist. Let’s just put it this way, JAY-Z, Nas, Big Pun (RIP), NORE, Eminem and many more have made a living off rhyme patterns developed by G Rap. And they all freely admit the man’s influence and have nothing but praise for his body of work.
From a groundbreaking debut, to avoiding the sophomore curse, to pulling off the impossible and dropping a third album that was better than the first two, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo were unfadeable in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And G proved he was doing most of the heavy lifting in the duo when he started his solo career with the classic 4,5,6. Instead of running through his whole catalog, suffice it to say, right up until this year’s Return of the Don, G Rap has stayed consistent.
Today, November 24, marks the 25th anniversary of Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo’s seminal third album Live And Let Die. Although Road To The Riches and Wanted: Dead Or Alive laid the groundwork for G Rap’s mobster style, it was on Live And Let Die that he really defined his sound. It was more focused than his previous work, and a lot more hardcore as well. As the controversial cover makes abundantly clear, these dudes were not afraid to push the boundaries.
To celebrate Live And Let Die’s quarter-century milestone, MASS APPEAL tracked down the man himself to tell us all about how this important release came together and some of the amazing stories surrounding it. Did you know Kool G met 2Pac the night the L.A. Riots started? Whoa! Or that G Rap, Big Daddy Kane and Jim Brown used to roll like a real-life Three The Hard Way? Whoa x2!! We won’t spoil anything else, check it out below.
What was it like getting into Live And Let Die so quickly after Wanted: Dead Or Alive? What kind of mindset were you in?
It goes in stages. I think anytime an artist is working on their third album and beyond, you go through questioning what direction I’ma come in now, what am I going to talk about now. That’s the first stage, going through that process. Then, you get to the stage where instead of trying to think so hard, you let it happen naturally. I went through those stages. And then once you accumulate two or three tracks, you pretty much know where you gonna go with it for the rest of the album. It’s hard to get into that first album zone, especially when it’s your third album. ‘Cause you really got a lot of things off your chest on your first two albums.
With Live And Let Die some of the first songs I recorded were “I Ain’t Trickin,” “Great Train Robbery,” “On The Run,” and “Edge of Sanity.” As a matter of fact, I started on those records by myself. You can still hear my production on “Great Train Robbery,” the original version of “On The Run,” and “I Ain’t Trickin.” Then when I went out to Cali to record with Jinx, he kinda produced over what I already had started. That just created a whole new momentum. It went from hard, gritty New York production into a more filled out Cali flavor. Nah mean? Working with Jinx in general was a dope experience. Very dope producer. Very creative. I learned a lot of things working with him.
What was it like recording in Cali?
Being in the California atmosphere was exciting because it was different for me. Just being out there and experiencing that culture…with palm trees…and how dudes act different out there. That was when I really got a sense of the colors, the Bloods and the Crips. And little did I know I would be out there for one of the most historic riots to ever take place in this country. I was just going out there to record but that’s what ended up happening during the process of recording Live And Let Die.
So, where exactly were you when the L.A. Riots popped off?
I was just leaving the studio. That wasn’t the studio I was normally going to. I was in one room and 2Pac was recording in another room. Jinx was real tight with 2Pac, so he introduced us. 2Pac ended up bouncing with us when we left the studio. We was all in my man Gooch’s convertible BMW. I gained a lot of acquaintances being out there recording for so long. Shout out to my man Gooch. While we was working in the studio, we was keeping up with the news. So, we knew what the verdict was. But we in the studio, so we not really seeing the results of that shit in the streets. When we got back to the more central L.A. area it was pandemonium. Everybody was out in the streets. You had dudes running around wildin’, breaking into shops… dudes driving around poppin’ off they pistols from their cars. We was doing that. [Laughs] I just joined in. I was able to relate with that frustration. Everybody knew about the Rodney King story. People knew about it around the world. I don’t think I was as mad as the people in Cali, but I was definitely disgusted by the “not guilty” verdict for the police officers.
Can you remember what order the tracks were recorded in?
Like I said, “I Ain’t Trickin,” “Great Train Robbery,” “On The Run,” and “Edge of Sanity” were the first four. The next ones I recorded with Jinx in California would be “Go For Your Guns,” “Mr. Fuck U Man,” “Home Sweet (Funeral) Home,” “Operation CB,” “Letters,” then “Nuff Said.” I’m not sure if I named them all.
How about “#1 With A Bullet” with Kane?
Anytime me and Kane would be in Cali [at the same time], we would always link up. He used to be up at Jim Brown’s house, up in Hollywood Hills. So, I used to go up there and check him. We had this whole big-ass beautiful mansion to ourselves. ‘Cause Jim Brown and Kane was retarded close. So, whether he was in town or not, he would have Kane up there to hang out. Then Kane would have me up there. If Jim Brown was out of town, he would leave Kane the keys. So, me and Kane was hanging out around that time. We went to some clubs and restaurants, and then we ended up going to the studio and recording “#1 With A Bullet.”
How did the posse cut “Two To The Head” come about?
At this time I’m loving Cube ‘cause I was an N.W.A fan. And I was Geto Boys fan. So, I had my people at Warner Bros reach out. Geto Boys was in Cali for something else but the business was already worked out with them, so they came through the studio. Scarface, Bushwick Bill, and Willie D was there too. But I only had Scarface and Bushwick Bill on the track. They laid their vocals, and then [shortly after] I had to leave Cali to come back home. I had a lil’ wifey and my son was still real young…like two years old. I was already away from home for like weeks, so I had to go back for the family.
Then when I came back, it had vocals from Ice Cube on it. I didn’t even pitch for that, I didn’t know that was gonna happen, it just caught me by surprise. It was something Jinx put together. I was literally blown the fuck away. Cube showed me a lot of love, that’s why I always got love for Ice Cube. I want to give him a big shout. He didn’t just jump on my track, when I got there, Cube had left me Lench Mob jacket. So, I thought that was real live. And I repped his Lench Mob jacket when we did the “Symphony II” video.
Talk about linking with the Trackmasters.
It happened after I came back from Cali. That’s when I became aware of Trackmasters. This is Cold Chillin’ Records days, so my man Fly Ty from Cold Chillin’ was playing this group for me called Lil’ Bastards or something like that. It was a group he was about to sign or signed but never put out no records from them. Ty used to play whatever new artists he was thinking about signing for the artists already on Cold Chillin’ to get their feedback. So, he played it for me and I thought the shit was hot. I was even more intrigued by the production. I’m like, “Who the fuck did the tracks?” He said, “My mans Tone and Poke, Trackmasters.” I’m like, “Them n****s tracks is crazy!” He’s like, you want tracks from these n****s? I’ll get you tracks from them.” I’m like, “Absolutely, yo!”
Let’s talk about the making of “Ill Street Blues.”
So Fly Ty linked us together and we went right to the studio. They didn’t give me no tracks that they had already put together, we were just in the studio vibin’. There was four Trackmasters when I was fucking with them. It was Tone, Poke, Frank Nitty, and I forgot the other guy’s name. Frank Nitty was like, “Yo, G, you know what? I got this crazy fucking loop for you. I got some real gangster, mob, crime chronicle shit. But I ain’t got the record here. It’s back in the Bronx.” We in the studio in Queens, so he had to go all the way to the Bronx to get this record. He comes back with it, puts it on, and I’m like, “Yeah, that shit’s crazy!” Me and pianos go together, you know? Road To The Riches and all that. He looped it up and I immediately went in. That shit gave me the feeling of some 1920s, ’30s Chicago gangster shit. So, I just did my own 1990s version of that. I went in the room to drop that first verse and the whole room just went fucking crazy, like they lost their minds. Then I laid the second verse, and I didn’t have a third verse at first. We sat on that version of “Ill Street Blues” with two verses for a while. Then we booked time in a different studio in Manhattan. I came in with the third verse written, and they lost their fucking minds again.
Some of the songs on Live And Let Die seem like sequels to songs from the album before. Like “Talk Like Sex” and “Fuck U Man.”
Yeah, I did want to have a follow-up to “Talk Like Sex.” I wanted to make another record that was humorous and pornographic. I think I’m the first rapper to ever do that. So, I was following my own trend, my own innovation. I did the same thing with “Under 21 Not Permitted.”
I heard there was a different idea for the cover where it was gonna be you and Polo in the middle of a bank robbery.
That was my first idea. I wanted it to look like we were doing a bank robbery and we was caught on the surveillance camera. The photographer came up with the idea of two cops about to be hung with Rottweilers.
Those were some scary-ass looking dogs.
Oh, hell yeah. I wasn’t trying to get too close to them dogs. They looked straight evil. Anybody that has watched the movie Omen probably has a natural fear of them dogs… for real.
There was a wait between when the album was recorded and when it got put out, right?
Yeah, that happened because Warner Bros. got cold feet due to the whole Ice-T/Cop Killer controversy. People started coming down on Warner Bros. like C. Dolores Tucker and Reverend Butts and all these characters start speaking out against gangster rap. So, the execs up at Warner Bros. was getting nervous like, “We don’t know what to do with all these offensive rappers and their offensive music, and now they’re talking about it in congress.” You got people holding rallies in the streets, and running over CDs and burning CDs. It was like a witch hunt for so-called “gangster rap.” So, we got caught up in that witch hunt and it delayed the release of the album.
Warner Bros. didn’t want their name attached to the shit, so Cold Chillin’ Records just released it on their own. But if Warner Bros. would have put it out, it would have been released on a much bigger scale, it would have had a bigger machine behind it, and it could have went further than where it went. I actually could have caught a Gold album off just the singles “Ill Street Blues” and “On The Run.”