Thursday, July 27, 2023

Interview with Defscotty B aka Spaz

Defscotty B aka Spaz (Scott Bernard) started recording demos with his brother Brian way back in '83. Though those tapes most likely no longer exist, starting in '94, he started holding onto his MC / producer songs like Another Level, Bust the Flavor, and Crazy Flava. Him and Stuntman aka MC Mark vocally joined forces on Something For the Mind, and he made Intergalactic on Plastic for R-Square, as well as a couple others, Straight From the Wasteland, and Confused Mind State, both featuring Ace Love.

Also in 1994, Spaz started working with Rick Da 'Bro, beginning with I Don't Wanna Talk, and Hit 'Em Up. Two years later, in '96, Rick Da 'Bro put out an EP, Unsigned. Five of the seven tracks were produced by Spaz. The project was mixed by him as well. The following year, Spaz had one final nineties joint, Feel the Vibe.

Sleep: Yo, Spaz, thanks for takin' the time.

Spaz: Yo Big Sleep, what's good. Thanks for reaching out.

Sleep: Obviously the name Defscotty B is based on your government name. Why do you have two names, Defscotty B as well as Spaz?

Spaz: The name Defscotty B came about from the early eighties. The big word then was def, it [wasn't] cool... it was def, so I went with that. Spaz was my fraternity nickname so I kind of updated the name in the early nineties, since def wasn't as popular a slang word anymore.

Sleep: You mention on Another Level that you've been rhyming since '83. What got you into rapping? What was the first hip hop song you remember hearing?

Spaz: The song that got me into rapping [was] Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight [in] 1979 or 
1980. I had the 12" vinyl LP and wrote every single word down and memorized it and would rap it to kids at school.

Sleep: Who were your influences? Both on the mic, as well as the production side? (In your demos you've referenced Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Common [Sense], The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, EPMD, and Onyx.)

Spaz: My brother, Brian Bernard, [w]as a major influence. Because he was in bands and had recording equipment and later worked and lived in Philadelphia recording studio [in the] late eighties / early nineties. Washed his hair with hot water from a Mr. Coffee machine, true story. [O]wner Jake Asta let Brian live in the studio as long as he worked recording and engineering / mixing jobs for sessions while they recorded their own band's demo tapes. Twenty-four track, two inch analog tape, and giant mixing console. Real deal studio.

Brian [sung] lead in one live show because Lee, the singer, got arrested I think. Brian wasn't the lead singer, but filled in that night. Lethal Steel. Late eighties. Very old stuff, but cool. Then they became Dead Serious in [the] early nineties.

Actually started recording demos in 1983 [with] Brian, on cassettes. Brian had [a] drum machine. We plugged it into my guitar amp [with] a mic and recorded rap songs. 1983. I'd take tape[s] to school and kids went crazy over it. [Especially] black and Puerto Rican kids.

I'd say on the rap side, my biggest influences were LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Special Ed, Gang Starr, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Capri, and countless others. On the production side, definitely D.I.T.C. (Diggin' in the Crates crew), Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Beatminerz, et cetera...

Sleep: I know a few members of Big L's family and've interviewed various members of D.I.T.C. over the years. I could definitely hear the Finesse influence. Kane, G Rap, and 'nesse are the undisputed forefathers of punchline rap.

Spaz: Oh word? Big L is a legend man. He is one of my favorite rappers of all-time... I should have mentioned him. His freestyles on YouTube are so good, [definitely] the best I've ever heard. Had all his tapes, for sure. R.I.P.!

Sleep: Nice! Yeah, I've talked to his older brother Don Ice (Donald Phinazee), as well as one of Lamont's nieces. I also chatted with Big L's mom Pinky (Gilda Terry) back when she was still around. 

Spaz: Sometimes I watch those reaction videos on YouTube regarding Big L's songs and freestyles. People who never heard him, going nuts over it. [Definitely] one of the best to do it so effortlessly.

Sleep: I'm assuming your demo was self-produced. Were you trying to shop it around for a deal at the time? Why is there another loosie from '97 (Feel the Vibe), what project was that created for, if anything?

Spaz: Yes, all those demos were self-produced in home studio. We were shopping Rick's demo around to labels. Feel the Vibe was a single song I produced for myself in a motel room in New Jersey I was living in.

Sleep: Did you do more, that isn't available online?

Spaz: From 1988 through 1992 I used to do demo tapes in my dorm room for me and others on a four-track cassette recorder. Had an Alesis drum machine, a toy Casio SK-1 eight-bit “sampler”, and demos in my dorm room, and talent shows at college and at parties.

Oh yeah, [in] 1994, me and Stuntman opened up for rapper Lil Vicious at North Brunswick, NJ high school['s] football field.

Sleep: Newark has always had a reputation for being gritty and grimy. How did you end up linking up with people in Brick City?

Spaz: My boy Jay (Trap) was our A&R man. He found me rappers from NJ. Rick and him both worked in the mail room of a company in Newark, NJ and linked us up.

Sleep: Newark is also known for having a scene unto itself. Redman, Artifacts, Lauryn and Wyclef of Fugees, Lords of the Underground, Rah Digga from Busta's Flipmode Squad, Outsidaz members like Pacewon and Young Zee, Shaq, even going back to Queen Latifah, and Lakim Shabazz. Ice-T was also born in Newark. How aware was your crew of what was going on creatively in that area at the time?

Spaz: We were definitely aware of the Newark hip hop scene at that time. We did showcase shows in Newark with other rappers trying to get on.

Sleep: What was High Point Production?

Spaz: I went to High Point University, so I called it High Point Productions.

Sleep: Moving onto Rick Da 'Bro's EP. For Emotions, you flipped Faze-O's Riding High, first used in EPMD's Please Listen to My Demo. All We Do samples Rufus Thomas' The Breakdown (Part I), made famous by Eazy-E's Eazy-er Said Than Dunn and MC Shan's I Pioneered This. 1996 takes the drums from Little Feat's Fool Yourself, heard on Tribe's Bonita Applebum, and New Jersey artist Apache's Gangsta Bitch. All those samples are from seventies musicians, made popular in rap by late eighties and early nineties rappers. Were you more inspired by the original records or the hip hop that first sampled those tracks? Did Rick come to you with samples he wanted you to use or did he leave the production side of things completely up to you?

Spaz: I came up with all the ideas for samples and beats, then would record a beat tape on cassette to give to Rick and other rappers to choose the beats they wanted to use. I had a big collection of vinyl LPs I would sample from, as well as cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes, et cetera. I was [definitely] inspired by both, the original recordings I sampled from, and the hip hop that sampled them.

Sleep: Frederick Cohen aka Freddy Fred ended up being the executive producer of Unsigned, as well as Rick's manager. Is that where the F in F. Records came from?

Spaz: F. Records was “Freddy” Fred Cohen's thing. He funded the pressing of the demo tapes and LPs.

Sleep: Who were the others involved in the making of that material? Parafanelya, Janine Fort, Jay Lundstrum aka Trap, the A&R. Solomon Dockery aka Sandman is credited as writing the song Casket. What is the story behind that?

Spaz: Rick's boy, Najee, from Newark, and Sandman did some beats in my studio as well, as noted on the Unsigned LP.

Sleep: Unsigned was pressed up (and the cassette was also made) at Disc Makers. What was that process like?

Spaz: I gave the DAT tapes to Freddy and he took them to Disc Makers to have the cassettes and LPs pressed up.

Sleep: Rick already had experience creating music for TV and movies with his Word Up - Stop the Violence theme song. How did working on the Moving Target film soundtrack come about?

Spaz: How did you know about the Stop the Violence TV spot we did in Trenton back in the day? That was pretty obscure. I remember going to that TV station and recording that beat and song. Rick did the TV spot the same day. Is that video out there somewhere?

Sleep: I first learned about the TV spot because it was mentioned in the bio part of the liner notes from the cassette version of Rick's Unsigned project. Shout out to Trenton. That's cool that you were there for that, glad I brought it up. It has the theme song at the beginning, as well as the live performance at the very end, during the closing credits.

Spaz: Oh shit, I never saw this video before. I was there live though and made that beat. Haha, that was me saying the hook / chorus: Stop the Violence. Niiiice. Totally forgot about doing that. 

Sleep: Right on! Obviously feel free to pass it onto Rick (and Freddy) if you haven't already. Getting to be a part of something like that is a big deal. Do you remember how the opportunity for you and Rick to be included in the Stop the Violence special came about?

Spaz: Rick's manager Freddy Fred set that up, and the movie soundtrack, as well as meetings with some record companies. Rick got paid for that movie soundtrack, but not me. [Haha,] I got jerked. I had no idea about the business side back then.

Sleep: Do you know which record companies, by chance? Wow, that's wack! Seems like that was (and still is) an all too common occurrence, screwin' over whoever doesn't fully understand the way the industry works.

Spaz: Atlantic Records and some indies, I forget which ones.

Sleep: Ah, he was considering some indies? Very nice. And I could see how Atlantic might've been a good fit if that had worked out. Big Beat operated through them and they had Artifacts. Their sister label Elektra had Brand Nubian, KMD, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth in the early to mid-nineties. Then in the second half of the decade, Fat Joe started Terror Squad Productions through there.

Spaz: I still talk to Rick Da 'Bro on Facebook, and Freddy Fred too.

Sleep: Glad y'all are still in touch.

Spaz: Freddy knows Bobby Guions, the guy who made the movie Moving Target, and got us on that soundtrack. Rick got paid for that, but I got jerked.

Sleep: Rick in his lyrics talks about Biggie, and fellow Newark resident, Redman. He also mentions both Kriss Kross and Young MC, though in not as much of a positive light. You both refer to Erick Sermon, Rick directly, you talking about EPMD as a duo. Rick talks about Snoop and you talk about Dre's The Chronic. You both were up on West Coast artists when the East was still fairly insular. Were you just listening to dope lyricists wherever you could find them? Were others in the crew as open-minded or were some strictly New York centric?

Spaz: We listened to East Coast and West Coast, but were definitely more into East Coast... NJ and NYC for sure.

Sleep: You and Rick were ahead of the curve in multiple departments. Back when you guys were recording, punchline rap wasn't as big or seen as important as it is now. There were only a handful of artists to make it large in that lane. Big Daddy Kane, Lord Finesse, and Big L being among them. What led you to incorporate that aspect of the music into your styles?

Spaz: Punchline rap was just something we both did, not exactly sure why.

Sleep: Rick Da 'Bro's Unsigned was released in '96. Selling independently through places like Fat Beats started to really pick up the following year. Did either of you consider continuing down the indie route?

Spaz: Yes, we met with a few indies, and they showed a lot of interest in us.

Sleep: Some of the other artists I've seen you mention are: Alchemist, DJ Premier, Nick Wiz, Nottz, Prince Paul, as well as Eminem, LL Cool J, and Necro. Are there any MCs or beatmakers you're checking for nowadays?

Spaz: Not really checking for any MCs or producers nowadays... Just kinda doing me, but if something hits me right I'll [definitely] check for them.

Sleep: You've made the transition from sample-based to sample-less in recent years. Is there one method you prefer over the other? What are the pros and cons to each, as you see them?

Spaz: Sample-based is complicated, [with] worrying about getting sued, et cetera... Trying to use less now, but still sample occasionally, and chop it up, or tune up or down, pitch it up [or] down, so [it's] harder to catch. I have old school production equipment, and newer stuff too, that I switch back and forth depending on what sound I am going for.

Sleep: I know that Unsigned on wax can go for over a hundred bucks online, on average. You mentioned in your lyrics being happy with street level fame, and not being your average MC, out for the ducats. There weren't many artists back then who had modest goals, and were clearly into it strictly for the art. Thank you again for taking a moment to respond to my questions. Hugely appreciated. Hope all is well on your end.



[The contents of this interview were reformatted and edited for clarity.]