When Hip Hop first started gaining commercial success, no one had a clue how it would have fared, especially with so many entities being started and not having an exact blueprint when it came from how to make it successful. At the time, we just knew we were experiencing history because the music and culture of Hip Hop was still an underground treat that only met the ears of those who were ‘in the know.’ Cold Chilin’ Records had a legendary start with the Queens/Brooklyn connection that showcased the production of Queensbridge’s Marley Marl and our ears were tuned in from the inception, regardless of the borough you represented (Of course, me being a New Yorker from the Bronx and rooting for mostly acts in the area I was familiar with, extending to Harlem at the time!). Luckily for the ones who weren’t around in that time period or is a recent ‘historian’ of the culture, Ben Merlis has written a book on what was label and home of ‘The Juice Crew’ which consisted of Hip Hop heavyweights Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Craig G, Masta Ace, and the infamous Biz Markie.
Merlis took the time to speak to The Industry Cosign about his book, Goin’ Off: The Story of the Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records and the reason he felt compelled to write it.
You’re a first-time author and you’ve just written the book, Goin’ Off: The Story of the Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records. What made you decide to write a book and why focus on The Juice Crew and Cold Chillin’ Records?
I was at a point in my life where I thought I had the passion, skill, and motivation to pull it off, and thankfully it turns out I did. I love books about music and the music industry, and I just think the Juice Crew/Cold Chillin’ story has so many great historic moments in it that it would make for a great book. Between the Roxanne Wars, the Bridge Wars, the rise of MCs like Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane, who changed the way people rap, Marley Marl’s innovations in Hip-Hop production, and the origin stories of incredible guys like Craig G and Masta Ace, this will be a very difficult book for me to follow up.
We know the importance of Cold Chillin’ Records, the artists signed to them and their history. In presenting this book, what do you feel people should get out of purchasing the project and what do you think people will find out about this collective that they may not have known before releasing this?
People should know that every one of these MCs and DJs started down their respective paths out of the love of the music. In 2019 you might have people who think, “If I become a DJ maybe I can become rich and famous.” Marley Marl wasn’t thinking that in 1978 because that wasn’t a conceivable outcome. He did it because he loved and still loves music. People will learn a lot of things about the Juice Crew from the book. A great piece of folklore and I hate calling it that because it actually happened, was how Kool G Rap recorded a verse so long for “The Symphony” that the tape came off the reel. G Rap himself explains what exactly he was spitting when that happened. It was a real “Egad!” moment.
What did you learn by embarking on this mission to bring this story out?
People don’t change. Everyone I interviewed or spoke with off the record had the same personality traits that their peers described from thirty or more years ago. I think that’s a universal truth about people. People certainly can and do change aspects of their lives, but regardless of the choices we make for ourselves, we’re fundamentally still the same as we were as teenagers and young adults.
Are there any other projects you are working on that you’d like to discuss or something you’d like to do and haven’t started on yet?
I have a few ideas. I’d like to help someone write their autobiography. I think that would be fun. I don’t know who that person would be yet.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned while doing this book?