Coke La Rock September:2008
By Troy L. Smith
Around 1983, while in Brandeis High
School I heard of an emcee by the name of Coke La Rock for the first
time. At the time I had no idea who he was, nor did I realize he was
looked at as the first emcee ever. But what I did notice was the name
COKE LA ROCK. The whole name to me was a symbol of Street, Fire, and
Coolness. One day while interviewing Kevie Kev of the legendary
Fantastic 5, I bought up the name Coke La Rock and right away Kev said,
ďThatís my man, someone not to be toyed with.Ē When Kev said those
words my eyebrow went up because I would never figure Kev to give props
to anybody but himself and the Fantastic 5. Imperial J.C. of The
Herculiods spoke of him the way we spoke of the infamous Larry Davis the
night of his coming out. When I finally met Coke La Rock for this
interview he lived up to all expectations. This is Coke La Rockís
Troy- Letís go back to the very beginning of time for you where were you born and raised at?
Coke La Rock- I was born in the Bronx thatís why I said hip hop began in the Bronx. I was born and raised in the Bronx. One would say west Bronx but I was born on the east side on Home Street, between union and prospect.
Troy- So how did you make it over to Kool Herc, over on University Avenue?
Coke La Rock- Well my mother moved when I reached the 6th grade. So from the 6th grade to the 8th grade I lived on the west side on Jessup Avenue. And I went to Jr. high School 82. I knew Herc before hip hop, before the partyís. Herc and I met in my neighborhood because of a young lady he was dating that lived on my side of town. We also use to see each other at clubs like The Tunnel or The Puzzle as well as the Audubon. I also have to say that Herc was a graffiti artist before he was a D.J. but I my self was not one at all. But I did come from an era where you thought it was legal to sell drugs and that was the way to go. I am going to call it how it is.
Troy- Well how old were you and Herc when you guys first met?
Coke La Rock- When we first met I guess I was 15 years old, he was 16. Herc has a year on me. We use to go to the night center. You know what I am saying because cats donít know what that really is. The schools use to open up from 6pm to 9pm.
Coke La Rock- Because the night school centers use to be from 6pm to 9pm the after school centers were from 3pm to 5pm. To get into the night center you had to be about16. And a lot of schools had a night center. So you went there and you played what ever recreation they had there such as basketball, pool etc. I taught Herc how to play basketball and thatís no disrespect to my man but he was from Jamaica and he was a bigger fan of playing soccer, swimming and lifting weights.
Troy- So Herc ended up becoming extremely good at playing ball?
Coke La Rock- He could jump, and he was powerful with his dunks. He didnít have a game like say one of those fly brothers from Harlem, he was straight power! I made him stay down low under the basket. Herc had one of his greatest games against a guy name Bear from Dewitt Clinton High School. He was one of the biggest, strongest mother f------ in Clinton High. Bear dunked on Herc about two times, Herc dunked on him like 6 times!
One time I had Herc lift 250 lbs 25 times in high school. The gym teacher tried to out do Herc and caught a rupture.
Herc use to ride his fix (bike.) 20 plus miles every Saturday and Sunday down in Central Park. Then come back up to the Bronx and ball with us. And you could never tell he did all those miles on the bike because he would go all out on the court. He was on some strong s---.
But then on some rah rah s--- Herc got into a fight with some big cat I knew who was getting money, who use to go back and forth to jail. The dude was fouling me hard so Herc was ready to put it on him. The dude made Hercís lip bleed but he didnít knock Herc down. Then the crowd broke it up. So I saw that this cat had a better knuckle game then Herc. He wasnít better fighter then Herc, but he had a knuckle game. I said, ďHerc f--- the knuckle game, dopefein yoke that n-----!Ē (Troy starts laughing.) So the n----- swung and Herc got under him and dopefein yoked him and started putting him to sleep. The cat was out and his crew went to like break it up and I stood in front of them and pulled out and told them to sit the f--- down. I said kill that n----- Herc! The n----- eye balls rolled back. I said let him go Herc! Herc let him go and he was a sleep.
Herc is strong, very strong. Herc didnít have the traditional knuckle game at that time, but over all he was still no match. Now if Herc had to kick him he would have soccer kicked his ass around, but at that time you know you had to give a fair one. (We both start laughing.)
As far as high school I went to Alfred E. Smith because I liked cars and I thought I wanted to fix cars for a living. I later realized I didnít want to fix them I just wanted to drive them. What got me and Herc even tighter was I was supposed to have a fight with this guy from the school. Being as I knew Herc and a few others from the school the word got passed around, ďCoke is about to have a fight!Ē So the whole crew was there. And I did what I had to do. The dude I fought was named John Shaft. I beat Shaft up and they gave me the nick name Bumpy!
Coke La Rock- Yeah Bumpy, they said Bumpy beat Shaft up! That was the reverse side of the movie.
Troy- rightÖ (it takes Troy a moment.) youís a funny brother!
Coke La Rock- (Coke recognizes that Troy remembers the movie Shaft.) There we go. So the next day they were calling me Bumpy because I beat Shaft up. Shaft was a senior I was a freshmen, so everyone was surprised. See growing up D.j.s were not popular they were the last guys on the totem pole when it came to respect when we were growing up. A n----- will put his foot in your ass, take your records, take your money and your sodas and beer and tell you have a nice day! The only cats that got true respect in the streets were the pretty boys, the boys that were getting money, if you could fight and the ball players. Those were the four popular cats coming up.
Troy- Pretty much the same thing in Harlem.
Coke La Rock- See what I am saying. We use to go down to Harlem. I knew a couple of cats, like Charlie Rock who was from 139th streetís pit. I use to go to the Pit after midnight because the hustlers use to play for like a Grand or better. Then one day me and Herc bumped heads with Cisco. Now a cat getting money knows about Cisco.
Troy- Cisco from 116th street that was cool with Freddie Myers.
Coke La Rock- Thank you. Cisco created The Wiz Kids basketball team and he wanted us to play for them. Cisco was the first cat I saw getting real money when I was a young guy. Back then he had the two Mercedes Benz. He had the big jewelry, he was getting that paper. Herc mostly knew all the D.J. cats coming up, I was more in tune with those cats getting money. I meet Cisco through my friend that also went to school with me. I later found out my friends father was a bank robber. So that went with that. When I met Cisco I wasnít hustling yet and we tried out for his team and Herc and I could have played for his team but we were from the Bronx. Plus I really enjoyed watching the game as well as playing it because Coke La Rock wears glasses so it can get real physical on the courts and you throw an elbow and brake my glasses I am not responsible for what happens next. But one on one I use to play in the Pit on 139th street in Harlem for that money, I am talking about $1200 a game.
Troy- You talking about Five Two then!
Coke La Rock- Thank you, you know what I am talking about. Some times it wouldnít be Five Two it might be one of those 6 feet and under games. The hustles played and guys left them alone because of their rep, but very few of them could really play ball. I use to see Pee Wee out there too when he use to bring his man Joe Hammond out there with him. I remember Joe Hammond getting like 80 points up in the Rucker back in 1979. Harlem was fascinating.
I remember you telling me in the past you went to Brandeis High School well my man Diamond Dee went there as well. This was my man from back in 1971 the original Diamond Dee. See when cats want to take your name they want to have your fame. So my man Diamond Dee took me to Brandies one day and they had 6 fights in the lunch room during the dance. The party never ended I was like lord these cats are crazy. I remember another spot in Harlem over by Danteís on 160 something street between Broadway and Amsterdam called The Devils Inn.
Troy- Over there by Wilsonís restaurant bakery that I thought would never go out of business.
Coke La Rock- Right, well The Devilís Inn was the first real club I went to in Harlem to feel the difference. When you come out of there at night you see at least two n------ lined up against the wall dead. They would have fights inside and the party would still go on. That was unbelievable to me. It was like the tough survive and the weak perished. That spot woke me up. Then I went to this spot called The Factory West which was on 125th street one block down from The Apollo.
Troy- You talking about The Factory where you walk up the stairs! (It was changed years later to Randyís Place. B Fats, Crazy Eddie and The Treacherous 3 and other young hip hop stars started making their bones there.)
Coke La Rock- Thank you. Well the fifth time I went there they killed the bouncer and just threw a sheet over him and kept getting that paper and partying. I didnít know at the time if the police found a body at a spot the party is dead!
Coke La Rock- They couldnít take him out so they waited until the party was over. But people kept coming in stepping over this man and he was dead.
Another club I went to was the Sand Pan. During this time you had other clubs downtown of Manhattan like The Eckanema and The Cheba. I was 17 years old when I started hanging out at the Sand Club down on 34th street between 7th and 8th avenue. At that time it was a club and a restaurant and a bar all in one. You had to be 21 to get in but I got through and it was the first club I really loved. And during this time on the forth of July all the fellas that were balling or getting a little paper would go out to Coney Island and you chilled by The Hemilayer ride, dancing and showing your wears off. I lived fly and I loved lizards so I stayed in the reptile house. Cats were wearing Penny loafers I was wearing reptiles. I couldnít even go in zoo because the animals acted up. And I was G money man I kept a G and better on me. I walked around with 16, 17 hundred a day on me that was a normal thing with Coke La Rock.
So my man was like, ďCome on over to The Sand Pan I was like nah I am only 17.Ē He said pull out that knot because it is only 5 dollars to get in. So I pulled out 1700 and gave the cat a $20 and I was in there. I felt like a big man, I got the older women saying, ďhey.Ē I got 3 or 4 entrťes of food around me. Iím smoking weed, got my car outside.
Troy- So you were doing all this before you got on the mic?
Coke La Rock- Right, but this is what threw me more deeper with Herc. I use to sell weed at Hercís parties. I would sell like 40 nickels a night at Hercís recreational room. So I was always scramblingÖ.
Troy- Scrambling! Damn I havenít heard that in years.
Coke La Rock- Right and I really fell into it because one night Hercís family went away and Herc wanted a little time with his girl. So Herc was like Coke play the records for me for awhile. I was in the recreational room but nobody knew me as that because d.j.ing wasnít my thing. Herc said he was going to take less then an hour. But when he came back in the rec. room which was two hours later everybody was partying hard. He asked me if I wanted to be down with him, I didnít mind because while I was playing music I was selling all my weed at the same time. See I go back with the weed, back to the days of The Chunky Black!
Troy- Chucky Black? Damn Coke you went way back to the Chucky Black from 23rd! (123d street between 7th avenue and Lenox Avenue had some of the most popular weed spots in Harlem and the rest of America probably.)
Coke La Rock- Lets go back Troy I was a Chucky Black man. I go knock on the door they look through the peep hole and let me in. They had 5 spots that covered both sides of the street. I take you deeper with the smoke part, they use to sell Motar back in the days and that was even more powerful and cats couldnít get that. That Motar was over on 157th between Amsterdam and Broadway.
Troy- I heard about it, but it wasnít easy to get.
Coke- Exactly, because this spot sold it once a week. And that was only for a chosen few. Now on the hustling tip I got like a little $1700 a day off the deuces and treys.
Troy- You talking about those deuces of heroine that got four dudes high?
Coke- Damn kid you remember those days.
Troy- This was up in the Bronx you was doing your hustle?
Coke- Exactly and see a lot of cats that were getting money in Harlem lived in the Bronx. And on the quit tip nothing could challenged Harlem, Harlem was, is The Mecca of the world! Letís get that part real. Harlem is the Mecca of the drug game.
But the west side up here in the Bronx were I am at had families that had money. I went to Jr. High School and kids had 6 and 7 leather coats. And I was struggling to get one. I came from a single parent. My mother raised us and she worked 6 days a week. I had to stay at my grand motherís house while my mother was at work. So really my grand mother and grand father raised us. I went to church every Sunday so I wasnít raised as a street cat, but once I got in the game it has to be what it is. Plus you have to be in it to win it. The old saying goes, ďit wasnít nothing funny, it was all about the money.Ē
Troy- So how did you get the name Coke La Rock?
Coke La Rock- The name Coke La Rock came about the 3rd or 4th party, once we started really making an impact on everybody. Herc was like, ďCoke you have to get a name!Ē I was like, ďnah I ainít with that.Ē But Herc had his name, so I thought about it, but I was taught because I am getting all this paper hustling you donít put your name out there like that. But to be honest Troy it came in a dream.
Iím tell the story and no one has ever heard the real story before. I was smoked up one night in this dream and I was hanging with cats that were getting plenty money and one night some of my people came over to the spot and said come on we going to run down to Mexico and they was paying for it. So in this dream we are in Mexico and I say to Herc where can I get some Coke from? We go into the saloon but they call Coke, ďLa Rock!Ē You know what I am saying? They donít say, ďI got Coke.Ē All they would say is, ďLa Rock! I got La Rock.Ē So one of the Mexicans that was selling in the dream really took to me because of the money I was spending. So He asked me what was my name in Spanish! I said, ďCoke!Ē So the next time we seen each other he said, ďyo whatís up Coke La Rock, I got the La Rock!Ē So I was like Coke La Rock, o.k.! So when I woke up the next day I went looking for Herc and said I got my name. He said what? I said, ďCoke La Rock.Ē
Troy- So were did the Coke part come from?
Coke La Rock- The Coke part came because as a child they use to call me Coco. As I got older I felt only the ladies could call me Coco. I couldnít have the fellas calling me Coco.
Coke La Rock- So I chopped the Coco and had the fellas calling me Coke.
Troy- So why did they call you Coco at all?
Coke La Rock- Well I was a premature baby so I didnít take to the regular milk so my mother had to mix it with coco. They didnít have nestle quick and all that other stuff back then like they have now. So that is how that truly came about.
To be honest when we were all growing up no one really had their government name it was nick names all over the place. Cats didnít know your government like cats didnít know your momma. Everybody couldnít eat in your house. They didnít know your mother cooked chicken on Sundays. Back then it meant something when you said this is my boy or my man. Today it is held real loosely. Thatís why I use to say this is my mellow this is my fellow this is my ace king boom. This is my pride and joy, this is my boy. You know what I am saying you would die for him. Just like when I got in the game with Herc, I told Herc itís me and you against the world. Thatís how we got to live. We could never be wrong amongst people but we can be wrong amongst each other. And thatís how it goes.
We made it fashionable for cats to hold their heads up, and say you know what I do, I play music. See because the same money we start making off playing music was the same money cats I knew were getting that were coming off 116th and 126th street in Harlem. When cats would come up after scrambling all day he might have 10 or 20 thousand on him. Our first party together Herc and I made $8000. Thatís when I knew right then through the law of average if I leave the drugs alone and get into this here I could settle for at least $5000 a week. Compared to going to jail in the process of that other hustle! And people donít recognize this but we killed Disco! I donít care what anybody says.
Troy- (Troy starts laughing.)
Coke La Rock- The last person was Donna Summers, thatís what cats were rolling with. Even the great Pete D.J. Jones he was Disco. You read in the books Pete cut Herc up and Pete had Flash and Starski. He had a bunch of cats and donít get me wrong I love those brothers I am not saying anything against them but Pete controlled the Bronx with that music. But that was Disco. We came with those beats and we played what we wanted to play the same I played what I wanted to play. I am going to drop a rhyme on you about the different clubs we played back in the days.
ďIt started in a spot we called the twilight Zone
This is were Herc and I became men of our own
We took it down to spot we called the Exec
Thatís were we started demanding respect
Then we took it to the Parkside
Created a land slide
Thatís where we seen we owned the Bronx
Because we were packing every spot
Then we took it up to the Hevalo
And from the Hevalo everybody knows
Because we did seven nights in a row
At the Hevalo
It was packed back to back standing room onlyĒ
And not for nothing The Hevalo was the first Fever. As far as rapping I never wrote anything down I just told you what was going on. Also I was always strapped. That was a bad part of the game but it was a part of the game that was real, and that was to let you understand you not taking anything from us. You werenít robbing us and then you see us tomorrow like its all good. We treated it like the drug game. You ainít robbing those drug dealers and you ainít robbing banks so go ahead with that. Because I was taught if you ainít robbing enough to live with for the rest of your life why rob!
Troy- So let me ask you this, why did you choose to be an emcee instead of a D.J.?
Coke La Rock- Iím glad you ask that I was always a D.J. I was a D.J. first then I became an emcee. I guess they classified me that because it was so new to them that a cat was popping shit out the mouth, and cats felt I had the gift for gab. I felt I was just talking and relaying messages and giving props to my friends and other people out in the crowd.
Troy- So lets talk about that you being the very first emcee of hip hop, who inspired you at all being that their was no one in front of you to give you a platform! Because maybe I am mistaken but was any one doing it before you that I donít know about?
Coke La Rock- Of course not I was the first, no one was doing it in the fashion that we were doing it. But I did listen to the Last Poets.
Troy- Well that was what I meant were you inspired by say Rudy Ray Moore, Pigmeat Mark Ham, The signified monkey or those Last Poets?
Coke La Rock- Well I use to hear stuff like Signified Monkey and the other stuff you mentioned but we were not really allowed to listen to that stuff because that was what your parents played I would have to be in another room. That was like the nasty records, The Wild Man Steve and them type things. But what really got me with the rap thing was the Richard Pryor records. We use to say this little thing for my man Timmy Tim. Timmy Tim use to do this thing with the monkey routine Richard Pryor had in his show called, ďlittle tiny feet.Ē
Troy- Right I remember that very well, Richard Pryor was hilarious when we were growing up. ďWith the tiny little feet!Ē
Coke La Rock- Yeah well I use to cut that in after Timmy Tim would finish his lyrics or rhymes. I would say you are listening to the sounds of Timmy Tim and then cut in with ďlittle tiny feet.Ē (Troy starts laughing.) Then I would say you are listening to Clark Kent the man with Kryptonite the first Superman from the 9! Clark Kent was from the 9 and the 9 was tough in its own way. But most of the rhymes came by giving a message about us to the catís that was out there. One night I had to pull my gun out on some dudes because they werenít listening to what I was saying.
Troy- What does that mean?
Coke La Rock- One night we were at the Exec playing and of course everybody was swamping Herc. Herc had about 9 cats up on the stage listening to him. So when it came time for me to play I got on the stage and being as I didnít know any of these guys I told them, ďno disrespect but I want you guys to step down from the stage.Ē They looked at me and said, ďyo Herc run this here!Ē I said, ďyeah I hear that but fellas I am asking you to leave the stage. My name is Coke La Rock I am Hercís partner. I am not a worker!Ē They was like, ďman f--- that! I was like o.k.Ē I spent around to were my back was to them, and then when I spent around again I had my three seven out and I cocked it! I said, ďget off the stage or I will blow you off the stage.Ē So they sure enough jumped off the stage and ran and told Herc on me. So when Herc came back he asked them, ďyo who pulled the gun out on yaíll?Ē They turned to me and said, ďhim!Ē Herc said, ďThatís my partner, what did he tell yaíll, get off the stage, then get of the stage! Why didnít yaíll listen!?Ē That was what made me say I canít mess with D.J.s!
Because just like today everyone has that jealousy, that hate, they had it back then. Cats were getting money but still hating. That hating bothered me a great deal. Then you had claim jumpers. You read these books and everybody is telling what they did and half these cats didnít do any of that, and thatís fact. At the same time you hear somebody discussing hip hop and they talk about Herc! And all praise due to him thatís my n-----! But when they say Herc, Herc and they donít say Coke La Rock you was not at the beginning. And thatís how I know.
Troy- I hear you.
Coke La Rock- Because me and Herc were like Bonnie and Clyde, like any two pairs thatís how it went. You had certain guys growing up that if you donít see this guy then you not going to see the other guy.
Troy- I know what you mean.
Coke La Rock- thatís how that really went. That was why I stayed with the hustlers and left those guys alone. It was easy because I was a G money man and I hung with G money cats. So thatís the way that went. Also stick up kids backed up off of us because we had brand new guns. Everybody else had musket rifles and little 25.ís.
(Troy starts to laugh.)
I had a 12 gage pump, I had a three seven, Herc had a four five. And that was all we needed. And that was back in the 70ís. Cats from Bronx River remember us. Ask them what the stage looked like one night when we were up in there and some guy got shot! Ask them what the stage looked like. It was too much artillery up on that stage that night. We parted the sea like Moses. Nobody wanted to make a move. Nobody played tough guy that night. This was Bamís house but we were playing that night and this was the early part of the 70ís before 1978. This was way before we got real big because I can tell by the equipment we were using. We only had a couple of speakers but we still out did everybody else. I told Herc one day, ďYou like the exorcist of this here s---. Every where we play people come.Ē
Cats had just came out of the gang era so nobody could go in other guys neighborhood and play music and all of that because they treated you like dirt. We went any and everywhere. I never knew half these cats; they never came to the west side. You be hearing these lies, ďWe were over on the westside playing music and we destroyed Herc!Ē Oh come on man that was all game there. I donít know where they heard that from. Like I said thatís all claim jumpers.
But that night in the Bronx River we playing, and as a hustler you can feel that negativity like something is about to jump off, and quit naturally you can feel the tension. So automatically when I feel that I donít leave the stage! I put my jacket on and I get ready, because it could happen any minute any second. See and sometimes at a party you might have an outburst and somebody might run up at your equipment and try and grab your equipment and run off with it.
Coke La Rock- We were the first ones to put a rope and that was one of the main reasons after Bronx River. So if you come pass that rope we are entitled to shoot you! Point blank thatís the mentality of us at that time. So any way a guy shoots another guy in the leg and the running starts and we donít know how the crowd is coming but I had about 6 of my boys on the stage and all of us were strapped with burners, a sawed off shot gun and 12 gage. So there was a lot of fire power up there. Then you had a about 10 cats down with us in the crowd ready to go all out moving close to the stage. What was strange about that situation was just this year Herc and I see the brother that got shot that night after 30 years. I knew the guy but I didnít know it was him that got shot in Bronx River. But basically that night that was beef amongst Bronx River cats and not us we just happened to be performing when that went down. But situations like that made it fashionable for cats to hold there head up.
We were also big on schools and Hercs sister Cindy was on the school committee for Dodge High School. Being as we were on top of our game the committee sold out all the tickets in what seemed like seconds, and you know this is word of mouth not know radio or t.v. promotion. When me and Herc got in the party at 7pm it was jammed packed. By 7:30pm the police came to us and said, ďyo yaíll got to end the party!Ē The Police said it was too many people inside the school and outside in front of the school. The Police said it was so many people itís going to cause a riot. Also cats were trying to break into the school from the side and back. Cops said it was too many people, if something happens it is going to get out of control and so the police shut it down.
Two weeks later we went to Roosevelt high and did the same thing. See another thing back then our promotion was we would come in your neighborhood and do a 60 40 with you. The next week is all ours. We give you a piece but the majority of the money is ours. And that was how it would turn into a Kool Herc production because we promoted our selves.
I guess it all started because one night we were playing at City Missions over on 170th street at the Cadet Core. I was playing the music and talking and I will never forget because this is what really made Coke La Rock, Coke La Rock. This guy comes up to me and says who are you? I said I am Hercs partner, Iím Coke La Rock. He said, ďListen we didnít pay for you, stop all that talking. Matter fact we paid for Herc to play.Ē So I looked at him and said what? I said o.k. so I called Herc and said you got to play all night. I said, ďHow much does it cost rent this spot? He said $700.Ē Because I carried 1700 in my pocket I pulled out $700. I said letís rent this in two weeks. That same person made $4000 that night, two weeks later we made $9000 and the party was packed. I played all night talking s---. All the hustlers were there and the fly girls. So home boy comes back that was talking about we didnít pay for you, was now, ďyo Coke La Rock next weekÖI was like nah yeah done!Ē A lot of people didnít get a second and third chance because of the way you treated me. I am not a worker. A made a rhyme were I said,
ďI am a
man of my own
I am not a
So when you treat me that way I will show you I am a boss. Because I donít know what a worker is. I am a boss. Any way it was destiny for Herc and I. I knew we were before our time. At our very second party together I was playing the music, Herc was at the door, his father was showing an 8 millimeter film on a white bedroom sheet of a party in the recreation room with me dancing as a young kid with all of our friends partying in one room. Hercs mother is in another room selling sodas and chili dogs. See we were before our time. That was a whole concept right there.
I know you asked me if I had tapes, sorry I donít but back then I made 8 tracks and sold them to hustlers for $50!
Troy- And that was some money back then.
Coke La Rock- $50 a whop, because I only sold them to hustlers. I put your name on it, your car, I will even put your mother on it if you want! What ever you wanted Coke La Rock to say on it I would say. But I am not going to lie to you a lot of that stuff I lost through growing up living with different women and places. And by me being in the game so much a lot of that I shied away from. Especially all that picture taking. Like I told you in Crotona Park me and Herc were like Nickey Barnes and Frank Lucas. How they were to drugs is how we were to hip hop. And look where it went, all over the world. Itís exactly that way and we came up through that era. I understand today that the drug side of the game was not the way to go or succeed successfully in life. You either get rich, go to jail, or die. And most of you donít get rich at least most of us. Most of us go to jail or die. Like you said you do things but you have to recognize whatís what!
Troy- Well whatís the saying, ďhind sight is 20 20!Ē If we knew then what we know now!
Coke La Rock- There we go, but I donít regret nothing I did because thatís like wishing on a star, you canít take it back.
Troy- Let me switch back to that Bronx River beef. That night what was you and Hercís relationship at that time with Bam and was that commotion over Bamís people?
Coke La Rock- Nah nothing like that it was just neighborhood cats. Because you had cats that use to be in I think the Four Corners bar. Itís just everybody controlled there own little neighborhood. Thatís how that went.
Troy- What was the original crew once you and Herc started putting people down?
Coke La Rock- First Herc then me. I have to put my man on Mike Mike who was our record carrier. We started coming up in the world so Mike helped us out. There was another cat name Eldorado Mike who would hang out with us but he wasnít official down with the crew. Then Timmy Tim, God bless him. He passed away. They were trying to call Timmy Tim little Kool Herc! That shows you how much they would follow you that they would call you that guy. Then Herc picked up Clark Kent. We were playing over at the 9 that was how we picked up Clark. Herc said he could play the music and he felt him. By this time we were playing clubs as well as after hour spots. We would play the Hevalo and at 4 oíclock in the morning we would head over to this after hour spot called Top of the Lane, which big Willie money cats. Everybody else mostly knows of the Hill Top club which was mostly for the public. That was the commercial after hour spot on Edward L Grand highway. But the Top of the Lane was a gambling spot on Featherbed Lane. And thatís where Guy Fisher, Nickey and Nickeys body guards Big Smitty and Leroy use to hang at. We use to play there from 4 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. So therefore we use to have to do shifts. I use to stay home to about 11, 12 oíclock at night before I would come to the Hevalo because I would play from like 3am to 3pm! See I was also the R&B side that cats didnít really understand. Everybody thought it was just break music and beats. I got Marvin Gaye, Donald Byrd, War, Earth Wind and Fire. I was playing that so I can say we gave you everything you wanted to hear. Herc was Tha Foundation, Timmy Tim and Clark Kent were the filling. And thatís a plain cake but that cake was gooder then a motherf-----! Sometimes people like plain cake but when Coke La Rock comes on you getting a little bit more then what you bargained for. Iím the candles that you blow out that come back on when you turn your back.
Troy- I got you. Now can you break down the rhyme situation? You are the father of Caz Moe and Mel. As well as Jay Z, T.I. and Lil Wayne. Did it start from nursery rhymes and then you stepped it up?
Coke La Rock- It was just giving out a message. (Coke starts to speak anxiously.) Really where I think it came from was when guys use to come from certain areas of hustling, I use to call their names out and call their drug out. For example I was cool with some brothers hustling down in Harlem on 126th street.
Troy- Over by Kellyís Hotel, on St. Nicholas Avenue?
Coke La Roc- Exactly, their dope was called the Double Green, the Mean Machine and Black Tape. And when you come up to the Bronx they had some dope called Power. So if you came into the spot I would be like, ďyeah we got my man Easy Al from 26th street, Double Green Mean Machine Black Tape, come get it!Ē You know what I am saying. Then I would take you to the Bronx and say come up to Featherbed Lane and get your Power! I had some cats in Harlem doing their thing on Amsterdam, so when they would come up I would holler them out. I would holler out what you were doing and where you came from. Then it got to a point where cats would give me money and say, ďhere Coke call my name out.Ē Then I be like, ďyou ainít buying me to call your name out.Ē I would keep it real if I donít feel the rock stomping then I canít call your name out. I canít feel you, I have to feel you! I got to feel your name in my throat. So then a cat would give me a package and if it is what it is then I would call your name. So it was like hustling and being what I am doing. But I am doing what I am doing.
Troy- Now what about the time when it came to stepping up to saying rhymes, did you ever step into that era?
Coke La Rock- Sure here goes one.
ďThere is not a man that canít be thrown
Not a horse that canít be rode
A bull that canít be stopped
And theirs not a disco that I Coke La Rock
Here go another one for you Troy
ďIf a Freak is unique
Then thatís the freak you seek
Then I guess before you go
The freak will be on the bo
As long as the music is not stopping
The rocks are dropping
The champagne is flowing
The freaks will be going
You donít tell
I wonít tell.Ē
Doesnít that sound like something Sugar Hill took? So if you want to start taking bits and pieces of where it came from and who said what then donít take out the book of memory on me because I wrote the book. Like I said we are tha foundation everybody else is the product. The rest is claim jumpers. They fighting over who played the first vinyl, come on man! Thatís all that claim jumping.
Troy- Alright Coke once you started doing these rhymes that you did you were actually the first on the planet earth and then Cowboy and Hollywood were the ones that followed you?
Coke La Rock- O.K., I can get with that. But donít forget Mele Mel. I canít really say who came after me because once I got out of the game other then my self I didnít classify anyone else. To me I couldnít feel who was doing that because Herc was saying everybody is sounding like you Coke. I remember I went to the Black Door and it was Mele Mel and just Flash. And you know Mele Mel never touched the table. So from what I seen and I wasnít in every little area people were starting to become who they were. So thatís why I donít want to say it was Mele Mel before Cowboy or Cowboy before this one or that one.
Troy- So being as you were the first and you had no platform to stand on how did the birth of rhyming begin for you?
Coke La Rock- Its hard for me to describe it because like I said it was never in the plan. To me it was just me talking on the mic. I always had vibe, I didnít write anything down. It wasnít like on that stage where you came prepared like that. Thatís what I was saying about guys donít understanding about being the first. I couldnít see that thatís what everybody really grabbed a grip of.
Troy- So your example would be more like Biggie Smalls and Jay Z, all this was done in your head and not on paper.
Coke La Rock- Right.
Troy- I got you, so how were you able to put like three sentences together at that time?
Coke La Rock- It came together just on what I was feeling and how the night was going, as well as who was in the club.
Troy- But it was a complete rhyme?
Coke La Rock- Of course, and like I said I got that talk in me like I got that talk in me now. Every rhyme I did had something to do with the party. But just like a child taking its first steps I said a small maybe one or two sentence rhymes and then they got longer. And most of the time I would rhyme to T plays it cool, which was my interdiction record. And if you notice Red Alert plays that now.
Troy- I got you.
Coke La Rock- I am not trying to hold no grudge but I remember you telling me one cat said all we said was nursery rhymes. Come on man that hit me a certain way. Nothing coming out my mouth was a nursery rhyme!
Troy- I feel you, thank you for saying that.
Coke La Rock- I was above and before my time. I was wearing jewelry and driving cars and these guys were renting coats, tuxís or outfits for big event parties. I dressed like that everyday. I stayed in A.J. Lesterís, Corterfield coats and Dobbs. And like you bought up what other cats said about me. That was how they thought they seen me, they didnít know me. And I know they donít know me. But like I said I rhymed over records like T Plays it Cool, but I talked over all types of records. But I would prefer rhyming over records that I knew we had that were instrumental. But say like a James Brown record etc. I would talk behind. They might say something in the record like James Brown hit me and I would start talking.
Troy- So you never heard Cowboy or any one else do there thing when you was doing you?
Coke La Rock- Nah see once I got out of the game I started hanging down in the village and going to the Paradise Garage because they had the best sound system in New York. That was before Studio 54.
Troy- Larry Lavan
Coke La Rock- Right, there you go, Larry Levan. And I knew the owner Mike Brody. Brody use to like smoking that Ill from 123rd street over by your boys with the Chunky Black. He said he felt creative once he smoked that. (Coke starts laughing.) Plus I had the Fish scale off of Broadway for them too. His partner was Noel Garcia aka the Marlboro Man. They were gay, I wasnít, but you know thatís how that goes. But thatís that crowd. But anybody that came through New York as an entertainer came through the Paradise Garage. Sylvester was like James Brown, him and Grace Jones. She was the queen of that punk rock and house music. I seen Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Billy Ocean etc there. I would take a trip once in awhile to The Fever because that was what was going on uptown. But I knew I had to be some where on my own, that I knew I didnít have to be watching my back to a degree.
Coke La Rock- And I wasnít one of those cats that be in your face. I was taught if you getting a thousand dollars why would you be around cats that was only getting a hundred dollars. They are going to want to get your thousand. See you put pressure on your self that way. Just the way you see in the hip hop game you see in the street game, period. Guys run behind guys just to rob them. And see I was never a foot soldier, I was never a lieutenant I was always a boss of bosses. I was always my boss. So thatís a hustlerís hustler. Thatís bigger then a hustler. Because where do the hustlers buy, from a bigger hustler! So the Boss is not a scrambler. So thatís why you havenít heard scrambler in a while because a scrambler is out on the street going hand to hand, heís scrambling.
Troy- You right I havenít heard it since we were kids and we were all out there scrambling and it was as you would say fashionable to say it.
Back to Herc how long did it take before you got down with Herc?
Coke La Rock- The second party he ever did in the recreation room.
Troy- So now why would he pick you instead of any one else, being as you never d.j.ed or emceed ever in your life!
Coke La rock- We were very close and to be honest with you, I was there originally because I could sell my weed. I would sell 40 nickels a night.
Troy- So when Herc started playing those beats did he amaze you the way he amazed the crowd?
Coke La Rock- Nah I couldnít look at him like that, because quite as kept being as I was a good dancer Herc use to come and get me. I wasnít a B boy, I was a dancer. I could do it all dance, play ball, fight! I can fight very well. So girls during that time use to do what we call, ďburning people up!Ē As they use to call it. The girls are burning people up and Herc use to come find me and say, ďCome on Coke, come and dance with her.Ē Herc never seen a girl burn me. So that was another reason how we got so tight. I use to go to a lot of clubs, so Herc use to come get me to dance against these girls. Some times I use to be like come on Herc. (Coke chuckles.) But that was how we got closer.
Troy- Who were some of the celebrities that came through when you guys were partying?
Coke La Rock- They didnít come through because we were dealing with the young. See our thing was and this was what kept us strong for like 4 years. We never let the high school kids go. See when you mentioned Hollywood earlier, they caught our older crowd that got too old to continue to come to our parties. Thatís when 371 and all those type of spots became who they were. See we never let the high schools go because I told Herc one day, ďThe high school kids always want it.Ē As a freshman you are always going to want to know where the people are going as seniors you should know where to go. Plus you will never run out of high schools.
Troy- So did Vietnam affect you or Herc?
Coke La Rock- No see when that came if you was going to school you was cool, so the only people that were really going was the cats that werenít getting any paper out on the streets. During that time it was not a career move that it is now. But I did have a lot of friends that came back shell shocked. When cats came back from Vietnam they were either shell shocked our strung-out. So when you seen that you was like, ďman I ainít going to fight.Ē And you did the Ali, ďSend me to jail!Ē
Troy- So you were never in that type of situation youíre self?
Coke La Rock- Never, but there was one time I thought I was going to run away and this was before the music. I was living at home with my momma and you know how you call your self getting even and saying I am going to leave. Well I went and took the test for the navy and failed it by 5 points. That was a wake up call. And it wasnít some deep dark type situation with me and my moms because by no means was there a situation of abuse, I just wanted to get away. But I am glad it didnít happen.
Troy- So did you stick around long enough to be
there for that battle with the L- Brothers?
Coke La Rock- No I didnít the ones I stuck around for were against Pete D.J. Jones and Disco King Mario. But I didnít even participate in those battles because I played by the hustler rules. No one wanted to battle us until we got to the top. We had already gone through the grind. We were mobile d.j.s in the beginning. I remember Herc playing at another party before he played at his own; Herc played for Taft high school boat ride that was $50! We played a record called Rock the Boat, it was pumping. Mobile d.j.s got $150 to $250 the most. A big time d.j. would get $300. But they would rent you. I told Herc come on man Iím getting drug money. I didnít get a pay check from Herc for a whole year. I didnít have to. One time we went to a Bam party and thatís no disrespect to Bam because he wasnít on the door. We get to the door they like, ďoh wow Kool Herc come on in.Ē when they get to me they like, ďCoke you have to pay $3.00.Ē Herc is like, ďwhat, thatís my partner.Ē They like, ďHerc only you can get in!Ē So I said alright I pulled out $3 off of my $1700. The party probably made a $150. I got more money in my pocket then you pulling at the door and I am not trying to brag but that was another thing that was turning me off was when I would go places they would treat me like I was a helper. I wouldnít put up with any of that, and I would tell them, ďI am a partner man.Ē Same way with the jewelry we were before every one with that also. We had the big house medallion, our jewelry was proper. We shopped at the big stores. Let me hear them say they shopped at A.J. Lesterís in Harlem. (Troy starts to laugh.) Did they shop at Ladenís? Did they get their tailor madeís at Mr. Tonyís or Mr. Ories. We were rocking Corte field coats. I bought my hats from Dobbs. I use to get my initials engraved into my valorís. Like I said I bought my shoes at the reptile house. When they were wearing Playboys I was wearing lizards. We were shopping at Dick Gidronís (Cadillac car dealer ship.) when cats were buying bikes! Just like Herc never drove, although now you see that picture of him driving with the speakers in the back of the caddy, I was doing the driving. Herc didnít have a license. I drove the Eldorado, I drove the truck. I drove all the cars. I always had a fresh afro with a part on the side and the afro was always round, always stayed fresh.
Troy- When and why did you get out of the hip hop game?
Coke La Rock- I got out the game by 1979, 1980 maybe.
Troy- So you were still in the game when Herc battled the L Brothers.
Coke La Rock- Yeah I was still around but I wasnít with all that. Some people he battled and I was there but I didnít know any of these cats. So to me it wasnít necessary to battle any one because we had already been on top of our game nobody was getting paper like that. To be honest all those guys that started trying to do it like us I was pretty cool with like Love Bug Starski. Meaning me and him use to kick it all the time when we seen each other. I gave him his respect not that other cats didnít deserve it. I was cool with Star Ski and Flash also to a degree. But everybody didnít show that. Meaning everybody didnít show that love with each other. If I played on the west side I couldnít like you because you played music on the eastside. This is why all that jealousy and envy is here today because it was there in the beginning. Thatís why I said I couldnít mess with d.j.s because I didnít know them and I didnít care and that was because it was too much envy! I was raised how can you hate a brother if you donít know him?
Troy- Did you have to beat down any of these dudes back in the days?
Coke La Rock- I pulled my gun on them once or twice, but I really didnít have to do that because they knew were I was coming from. I had a great knuckle game. See plus that was a bad move to do anyway because Herc had the muscles and I had a big gun. I wasnít trying to pump up muscles, but I could fight like I said I was real good with that. So it wasnít so much stepping to me because it was me and Herc all the time every where. Like I said you get nothing but death this way.
Troy- (Troy laughs.) You said you get nothing but death?
Coke La Rock- That was our saying. You get nothing but death this way man.
Troy- So you werenít there at The Galaxy robbery?
Coke La Rock- Nah I was on my way out by that time. Matter fact the cat Mandingo who did security at The Fever and all of these other spots, you know him?
Troy- Yes a real cool brother God bless him he died a couple of years ago.
Coke La Rock- Well he had one of my guns that night. I use to let him hold my 38., nothing bigger then that. Let me lay another first on you. When cats started trying to get up on us they didnít even have turn tables to back spin. We were the first with the techniques to go backwards. Man I even remember battling a cat who bought his house speakers to the party. He had 12 little house speakers that werenít bigger then a 2 litter soda bottle.
Troy- (Troy laughs.) you is a funny brother.
Coke La Rock- We battled another cat that had a bunch of speakers that he stole from the train station. They didnít have money to get equipment.
Troy- I hear you, they was so into the music, by any means necessary they were going to find away.
So now how did you feel the night Herc got stabbed?
Coke La Rock- Tore me up. I almost lost my mind that night. I am going to tell you Troy it was a hell of a coincidence because that night before it happened I had to use the bathroom. My apartment was like 4 blocks away from the club, The Executive Play House which was later changed to The Sparkle. So I ran home and used the bathroom because it wasnít one of those big nights. When I left my house to get back to the club a couple of blocks away I started to see the ambulance and police cars. When I got there they had already taken Herc to the hospital. On the low I asked around who did it, who was involved? The word on the streets was it was some friends of the club. One of my people said they caught one of the dudes and they are now a victim. I told him I wasnít satisfied take me to him and I am going to put one in his head to make sure. Cats were like, ďlet that go they think they got it right, go to the hospital and check on Herc because he was stabbed badly.Ē And that was what made me go to the hospital. When I got there I flipped out cause it hurt the hell out of me to see my man hurt like that. It bought me to tears because I had lost one of my other good friends when I was 19. Hercís father was there and he seen that I was bugging; because I got quit and I was crying, I knew after that I was going to go on the war path. Hercís father told Herc, ďTell Coke to wait for you before he does anything!Ē Herc called me in the room before they took him into the operating room. He said, ďCoke I know one of them, wait for me.Ē I was like, ďyo why are you telling me this!Ē Herc said it again, ďwait for me.Ē I said alright. He said promise me that. Then when I leave out of Hercís room his father says, ďCoke let me hold your gun till tomorrow.Ē Then I started crying again I said, ďNo Mr. Campbell donít take my gun.Ē He said, ďI have to, you are not in your right state of mind. I know you are hurting.Ē I gave him my gun and the next day he gave it back to me. Then I went on the hunt, thatís how I felt about it Troy.
Troy- Damn my brother you messed up my head just listening to you tell the story. Praise God you and Herc are here today. I feel you all the way my brother.I am going to go in another direction. What were your thoughts on Rappers Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang?
Coke La Rock- Good question, me and Big Hank used to go to Junior High school together. Hank was never an emcee or a D.J. When he first got down with Sylvia I remember him taking me to New Jersey and getting the Cadillac. But to be honest by that time I had jumped out of it, I couldnít see where it was going. But me and Hank used to hang out a lot. Hank used to always come and get me when he was going to get his money.
Troy- So when Rappers Delight came out did it make you think about the Hevalo days and think about going back to Herc and trying to do something on a record?
Coke La Rock- Nah because like I said Herc kept always doing what he was doing and I just jumped back into what I was doing which was going to work everyday getting drug money. And that was it.
Troy- So what was the chief reason for you leaving the hip hop game?
Coke La Rock- Truthfully when my son Dante La Rock was born it made me say I canít go to jail or die for this music and somebody else raise my son.
Troy- So how could you feel safer hustling than playing music?
Coke La Rock- Because it was always there, I mean I hate to say it but well, I was always on a boss level in this game so it was never like threatening to me to be on the street getting money.
Troy- Well in all honesty to keep it official with the story did the hustling game ever catch up to you? Did you ever go behind those bars and give them some time.
Coke La Rock- The funny thing is never, I have never been locked up. I got picked up smoking some weed two years ago but nothing other than that. Ainít that something I been around 53 years and I been around the biggest, baddest hustlers in the world. Guys have done 10, 15, 20 years in the penitentiary. As Frank Sinatra said, ďI did it my way!Ē
Troy- So you never paid attention to the hip hop history of say Moe vs. Busy Bee, Cold Crush vs. Fantastic?
Coke La Rock- Nah the most I paid attention to was who took that name La Rock. You had the T La Rock and the late Scott La Rock, Ace La Rock. Anybody that put La Rock on there name I kind of felt something.
Troy- What was that feeling?
Coke La Rock- You wanted to be me, so I must have been doing something right. You donít take a brothers name if he wasnít doing what he did.
(Coke and I had to take a short pause because he was on the other telephone talking to Herc about business.)
Coke La Rock- Back to those guys with the name La Rock. Just like when Scott La Rock died I cried. A tear came to my eye and felt, ďyo I donít know you but you took my name and you had to feel the game.Ē
Troy- So whatís the deal with Platinum Ice Records?
Coke La Rock- Yeah I am running with Platinum Ice Records and Sedgwick and Cedar. It is still at the small stages for me and they trying to fit me in. The players involved with this is the first creators of hip hop. You got Herc, Grand Master Caz, Mele Mel, Theodore, and Busy Bee to name a few, as well as Easy Moe Bee. So we just got up into the studio and they are trying to put me into things.
Troy- Damn I am looking forward to this. So Coke La Rock do you have any parting words for the reader?
Coke La Rock- I like to say to Hip Hop, Hip Hop forever. And thank you Troy for being who you are and for acknowledging Coke La Rock as the first emcee and I appreciate that, and thank you.
Coke La Rock. Peace
Troy L. Smith from Harlem. With his sons Troy Jr. and Shemar.