posted: 07-08-04
interview : jbutters and marcus
If you open your Hip hop History books up to the chapter on what was fresh in the late 80s-early 90s, you would find a picture of Kid 'N' Play doing the kick step and Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D lamping in the background at the Apollo. This was the era where hip hop really started exploding onto the mainstream and artists started crossing over to the dismay of many hip hop purists. Kid 'N' Play did their part to make hip hop more accessible with joints like "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" and "Rollin' With Kid 'N' Play," coordinated dance moves and the successful House Party movie series. They were the first hip hop cats to even have their own cartoon!
As you can tell by now Play was the one without the high top fade. He was the smooth brother from Queens, NY who always left with the ladies and continuously got Kid in trouble. After many years in the limelight Play a.k.a. Christopher Martin has chosen a different path, devoting his life to god and taking a behind the scenes approach to music. He took his vast industry experience and founded HP4Digital Works, a multimedia company that provides pre and post production for film, digital and live theater productions. Check below for an interview with one of the cats who really put fun into hip hop back in the day and find out what drives him now and what projects he has in the works.
How would you compare the music back then - when you were creating it - to today?
Well, I definitely think track wise the quality of the music is better because that's what is supposed to happen as you move on, innovate and get better. A lot of cats that are choosing to bow out are not giving passion or commitment that they once did because they feel as though the motives and inspirations for today's music isn't what it used to be in regards to the love culture and the gift itself. It's all money driven and I believe they have a point there. So as far as the music itself: it's definitely better. But as far as the total package: it seems to be diluted.
To me you guys were like the last bastion of hip hop where you could actually dance to it. Now everybody seems to just want to stand around and nod they head. What happened to dancing?
I believe music along with everything else in this world goes through its phases. When people seemed to be enamored with the whole gangsta thing I don't think it was because the whole world wanted to be gangsters. I think it was because it was refreshing to the ear and it was something different and that's how music and everything runs its course. When things are redundant, repetitious or boring you're thirsty for something new, no matter what sacrifice is as far as morals. With this case right here I think if you live long enough it will come around again, but sometimes things fizzle out because everybody can't do it.
The main reason rap became as big as it has, is because everybody is not a good singer. Same with dancers: the ones that wanted to do the gangster thing probably weren't good dancers. So they're like: 'lets take what we know how to do and make that the thing.' Sometimes it's as simple as that.
When you first started out what got you interested in hip hop?
What got me involved in it - as an actual artist - was girls. I wanted to get into their pants. It was my understanding that girls liked guys who did big things, so I was part of doing big things. That ended up turning into something a lot more meaningful because like I said: not a lot of people can sing so they can relate to people who can rap and you come closer to be able to do that. The thing I really appreciated about it is how it really touched my generation and what was going on inside of me. Not everybody did it but there were some of others more deserving of the title icon that I felt spoke. It was just so amazing how they were able to transform what was inside themselves and inside of all of us and be able to put it on paper, wax, cassette or CD.
How did you get down with your first group?
I forgot the first group but the one that was most memorable was Quicksilver and the Super Lovers back in Queens in East Elmhurst. Our whole theme was this legendary god of the turntables who was able to bring up the legendary lovers of the past. My full stage name was Playboy. Everybody that got close to me just called me Play and that just caught on. We had Romeo, Prince Charming, Herbie the Luv Bug, all these different people with these legendary lovers' names and we said: if you were looking for the ultimate lover this is who you see. Then as life moved on, cats had to get jobs. Kid was part of a different group called The Turnout Brothers and a lot of his members went and got regular jobs and him and me were the only two left standing. His full stage name was The Kid Coolout and everybody close to him called him Kid for short. So then you had Kid 'N' Play.
I'm sure his crew had a different focus. Did you think at first like: man this ain't gonna work out. Your style is over here and I'm over there. Or did you immediately click?
Nah, never because we were always family. The DJ in his group was the brother of one of the rappers in my group. We were always a close-knit bunch and had friendly competitions and all that. So when that idea came up we didn't even think that seriously about it.
This is one question I've wanted to ask you since like sixth grade. What sparked you to be like: I'm dancing and I'm just going to jump over my leg and it's gonna be hot?!
It came from dancers we had. We always wanted to do a big show. We were very closely associated with and came up the ranks with Salt-N-Pepa and that's why our shows were similar to theirs. We always had dancers behind us but unfortunately at that particular time, which worked out for the best, unlike Salt-N-Pepa who had more money than we had, we couldn't afford to take our dancers on the road. So we had to consolidate it. Even the kick step was something the dancers did when we had them behind us. Salt-N-Pepa had male dancers behind them and we had female dancers behind us.
I sprained my wrist trying to do that move.
I heard that went on quite a bit. Of course the secret is practice but it had a lot to do with the shoes you had on and a lot of people didn't know that. We wouldn't even really try it with anything else. From time to time it would be ok but it was the Nike Cortex sneakers. It was like having bedroom slippers on your feet. If anyone was trying with the Adidas or other Nikes the sole was too big and it was hard for you to really do what you had to do because of all the extra rubber on the heel at the bottom. So that was the trick.
To me when you guys came out with House Party you changed the game. We did an interview with Jazzy Jeff and he said the movie was originally for him and the Fresh Prince. How did it land in your hands?
Yeah it was. It was inspired by Groove B. Chill, you know the cats that kept bumping into the turntables. They and the writers all went to high school together, so it was inspired by them. When they were looking for people to play the parts they wanted Kid and I to do it. But New Line Cinema wanted Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff to do it because they were more known. Fresh Prince and them turned it down because New Line Cinema had a lot of nerve; because at the same time they were suing them for that record "Nightmare On My Street." That's why they turned it down. So it didn't work out and we did our little crazy thing playing by the rules and auditioning and it happened.
Now in the following movies how much creative control did you get? Because I can't imagine some old white dude coming up with a "Pajama Jammy Jam."
We were fortunate enough to have black people who understood. Kid and I have been fortunate in all the movies we did - even "Class Act". And that was written by a white guy we love named Randy Miller. We always had directors that trusted our instinct. They would ask us: would this be said and how legitimate would it be. Sometimes we would just do it both ways and whichever one turned out better when you edit it, that's the one you did. Most of the time they let us do it any way we wanted to. But when there was a disagreement, the compromise was we'll do different takes of each person's version.
We came up on Kid 'N' Play so we were there for everything. Besides Hammer y'all the only rappers I know who had their own cartoon and Marvel comic book. What was that experience like.
They always wanted us, even till today, to do TV. We weren't really crazy about doing TV because at the time Eddie Murphy had advised us not to do TV unless you absolutely have to. At the same time, at the time, I had a child and I always wanted to do something to be immortalized for him at that age. So the idea came up to do that and that's what happened.
Same thing with the comic book. It was just like what was going on now: you have to grow or you're going to explode. It was just a natural thing and may have come off as a little premature but it tickles me now because a lot of cats who would be very vocal about crossing over and selling out look at this now. It's the evolution of what's to be. The only reason that it didn't go longer is because a new NBC president came in and felt very strongly about live Saturday morning programming. That's when "Saved By The Bell" and "Hang Time" and all those shows came in. If it wasn't for that vision it would have lasted. It didn't have anything to do with low ratings, it was just that the president wanted to aim at teens on Saturday mornings.
Things gotta run their course and not saying it because I did it. But if it wasn't for a lot of those things happening, I don't know if a lot of people would be benefiting from what they are benefiting from now. Those things had to prove that it worked. Even when it was time to do "House Party", I was reluctant and out voted. I didn't want to do "House Party" because of the track record of a "Tougher Than Leather" or a "Krush Groove". Those were great movies looking back on it in retrospect but at the time they were box office failures. I didn't want to be part of that humiliation. But "House Party" came out and did as well as it did. It cost over 5 million dollars to make it but it turned around and made over 30 million in a short time. I know it must be well over a 100 large now. From investment stats, percentages and averages that's a businessperson's dream.
You touched on it a little bit but what is something you feel Kid 'N' Play is responsible for but you haven't gotten your just due?
I think we get our just due. I'm fine. I can't really speak for Kid but from the dialogue we had he's cool too. Everywhere I go it's nothing but love. Sometimes you think that I have to have a record or film out now but when I'm around the current rappers today it's nothing but love and respect. They kinda throw out the red carpet treatment. I'm just thankful to live long enough to see the fruits of labor.
The new stuff I'm involved in, I'm real excited about. I live life like everyone else, you have your ups and your downs but I know other cats who have been even more instrumental than Kid and I and they treat them unfair. I'm glad we don't get it like that. I think Hammer did an incredible job for rap but sometimes he is like the butt of people's jokes. I don't think it's fair. I think it's unfair how Public Enemy is treated. There should be a tribute to those cats and Big Daddy Kane.
Yeah, I remember hearing someone say how they slammed Hammer for doing KFC commercials but now you see mad heads doing things like that.
That's my point. It's like cats are seeing that maybe five plus years ago this would be crazy. The only one who has seemed to stick to his guns in regards to keeping it street is KRS-One. Everyone else is doing stuff that if you look five or ten years ago it would be like you sold out. You gotta make a decision: do you want to make friends or do you want to be blessed? Do you want to eat or do you want to be a starving artist? You can talk all that mess when you're younger because you live in your mother and father's house but when you end up having kids, you have mortgage and car notes to pay that keeping it street on the corner ain't gonna hold too much water.
Are you still involved in the ministry?
I'm involved in witnessing. My whole thing is hip hop and alternative hip hop that some would call Christian or Holy hip hop. My thing is it's stuff that's going to put light into people. If it's gonna raise a question or talk about a problem, it's also going to supply an answer. I think other rap topics are good as well and this is what is going on. But are we going to glorify it and pimp it or are we gonna come up with an answer? I don't get preachy that's not where we're coming from. The cats that I support and represent are coming at it on a real interesting angle real soon.
Was there any particular situation that brought you closer to god?
Just life. When you invest every dime and all your emotions and physical energy into something that you swear once you get it you're there and come to find out your not. Your tired, in debt and all kinds of crazy stuff go on and come to find out it's nothing but a big façade. All these people you grew up with under the belief that they made it, come to find out when you hang out with them and eat with them they share with you the hell they are going through. It's like if you're that happy why do you buy a new car every month? It's an emptiness that's not being fulfilled. If you got the car you love you not gonna do nothing with that for a long time. If you got the chain you love, why do you have to keep switching it and making it bigger and bigger? Not to judge, because I've been there and done that with the dookie rope chains, big medallions, and a series of Rolexes and all that. It's like clothes: you swear when you get that one outfit you set and next thing you know it's played out and now it's time to get the newer version.
Are you doing anything with Frankie Cutlass?
No not right now. He's a very cool brother. He helped me and Salt out with this project we are getting ready to come out with at the end of the year called "Rise", which is the first hip hop stage production of its kind. We taking it back doing old school, new school and crazy R'n'B tracks and at the end of the day it's about what is it all for. We're really excited about that and Frankie helped out a great deal getting the musical score together.
Rockwilder did most of the stuff so it's really hot. We got Whodini in it, Dana Dane, Kane, some possible participation with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. All that's being discussed and negotiated. The only reason it's taking so long to do is because we insisted that it have the same budget as when you are putting out a movie with all the publicity and bells and whistles that come along with it. It's gonna be kind of hard to ignore in a few months.
I read the press release and it said you took a lot from yours and Salt's lives and incorporated it.
That's the inspiration. It's a story about two people: a kid named RaPp and his sidekick, a girl. It's based on a lot of real events and things from our experiences: the good and the bad. A lot of comedy and serious moments. It's really hot. A lot of money has been put into it. It's me, her and we are backed by Allan Houston from the New York Knicks.
Are there specific morals or lessons to be learned from this or is it mostly entertainment?
I guess you can look at it as edutainment. It's really a situation where you need to know your worth because if you don't people will see it before you see it and if they're not good people they are gonna use it and abuse it for all it's worth. And by the time you realize what you have, unfortunately it's too late. We don't get all preachy and all sad. It's like everybody's story: you have the good, the bad, the great and sometimes the ugly.
I heard there is supposed to be a twenty-city tour. What is the setup like is it more of a play or musical and who do you see as your main audience?
We don't like to call it a play; we call it a stage production. We're looking at places like Baltimore, Philly, Charlotte and New Jersey. We're not interested in the big places like New York until 2005. My hope is that the people that will be drawn to it will be club heads or hip hop heads. It's not a church thing, even though the church relates to it. It's gonna be a party. We have several parts in it where it's a tribute to hip hop where the DJ goes there and has you going down memory lane and the whole nine. It's open to anyone who wants to see it.
What's up with this Holy Hip hop album you're supposed to be executive producing?
They threw it to me as a gift. My main love is visuals, music videos and movies. I've been fortunate enough to have some pieces that are getting ready to get launched. I have one that is called "Brother Lane's Last Call." It's a real story of an apostle that when he speaks, cats want to kill him. What happens is that we are able to recreate his story and bring in some other friends like Ralph Tresvant from New Edition, Shirley Murdock and a lot of other people. That's gonna be coming out real soon.
Me and Salt also did a piece called "Apt. 36b," which is about a cat who loses his love and turns to drugs and drinking and all of that and not caring about life. These are all things that people can relate to but there is a hip hop theme. A cat who loves hip hop can relate to a girl leaving him dying and he turns to get high all the time. That's the cat you see in the neighborhood and you don't know why he's doing that. Same with Brother Lane's Last Call. You can have an evangelist trying to save people's lives but cats out there selling their drugs dissing the preacher are hip hop heads. So it's bringing it a lot of hip hop themes.
Could you tell us a little about your company HP4 Digital Works?
That's something I started which helps a person bring their vision to fruition from A-Z; whether I consult, participate in the production of it or post production. It's all working through digital equipment, digital cameras and digital editing. It's the not so glamorous part of the entertainment business.
Was that something that you were always interested in?
It's something that I became interested in. One of the scariest points is where you might have to come to the realization that this particular part of the entertainment business is over. So what do you do? The worst-case scenario or the nightmare of most people is to go back and work at Burger King or McDonalds. You can do that or you can realize some of the things that you were around that intrigued you when you got exposed to them. I became interested and obsessed with filmmaking. Then as a guy that never finished school the thing was: I didn't know anything. So I was really on this search for a trade when it was all said and done. I wanted to learn how to do something.
You mentioned Kid earlier what's the relationship between you and him? Are you still on good terms?
We're good. He just lives in L.A. and I ain't feeling L.A. I can't put my finger on it but I've never been comfortable in L.A. I did a lot of damage out there. I did what people go to L.A. to do party and meet women. Maybe it's burnout, I dunno. I'm not a big year round warm weather person. I like my seasons. Kid likes the heat and that warm weather so that's really for him. Kid is a great entertainer. He's doing his stand up now. He's an actor and even as a singer. The guy is awesome. He's like a quadruple threat. So for a cat like me who wants to do things behind the scenes you can do that anywhere but for what he wants to do, it's a good location to make things happen.
Has everything always been cool with you cats and you just grew apart or was there a split somewhere?
I don't understand the break up thing because we're two grown men. If it got to the point where we stuck as close as we were, there would be rumors we were gay or something. The thing is nobody broke up; we grew up. We're all for doing another film. I'm not interested in doing any records but we already agreed to do films. We're not just gonna gobble up anything that's gonna ruin the last impression. We kinda went out on a good note so we want a script that's gonna honor and enhance that. We're good.
I don't know where the breakup thing would come from besides the fact that I went through what I went through and gave my life over to the lord and went other ways to finish growing in that. His thing was straight to L.A. and I'm not interested in living in L.A. If we were in the same city or something, then it would be closer to seeing us together a lot. The last couple of times I been there, I stayed at his place and hit a few clubs. So it's all good.
What made you do House Party 3 instead of moving to something totally different?
It was contractual.
Did you have other roles that were coming in or were you pigeonholed by the House Party movies?
I had a lot of roles coming in and I guess you can say I turned all of them down. I didn't really think that much of acting. As far as what we did do I'm thankful and how I can be like that is not for myself. Because if it wasn't for those movies I don't know where a lot of actors would be. I'm very happy for Bernie Mac. When we did "House Party 3" I saw "Who's The Man" and I saw him in it and said: I want to get you in "House Party" because you would be perfect to play Robin Harris' brother. And the studio loved it. We didn't have to do it, but we were introducing the world to new talent. We had TLC, Bernie Mac, Candy Alexander, Chris Tucker and it's real great to be affiliated with it. If we didn't do the movies it could have played differently for other people.
Last question, do you have any memorable moments from the Kid n Play days that we can take with us?
Man there is a whole bunch of them. I just agreed to do a book today that's going to force me to remember a lot of stuff. It's just that some stuff you can talk about and there's stuff you can't. I love Kid man. Him and my oldest son Christopher are the only people that can consistently make me laugh till I cry. It tickles me when I run into cats when they feel they aren't going to make it and they feel it's over and I'm like: how old are you? And they say 15. I'm like what? You still got a long way to go in this thing.
We went through a lot but the better times of them all were when we struggled to make it. There were times when Kid would have enough for the brew and I would have enough to get something to eat and we'd put it together and make it happen. There would be times that we would be sitting by the radio and cats were blowing up. I remember one time it was Dana Dane, Salt-N-Pepa, and all of them were at the Apollo. We couldn't go because we weren't on the guest list and then we were by the radio listening to the live performance boiling with anger because we're like "we could do that." The whole thing was a ball and I feel fortunate because a lot of people will never experience it. When it gets bad is when you get greedy and you think it's gonna last forever. But you have to let other people get their shot and get on.
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