Ultramagnetic MC’s – Bronx Bombers (1992)
Ultramagnetic – Bronx Bombers
THE SOURCE • JUNE 1992. by Reef
“In London and Europe there are a lot rebellious young people. And hardcore music itself is rebellious, and so is rap culture. They studied rap like scientists.”
FLIP THE SCRIPT TO THE DAYS OF “Yes, yes y’all!” in the Bronx… where the likes of Kool Herc, Bambaataa. Grand master Flash, Theodore and others were pioneering this…
where Ced Gee, Kool Keith, Moe Love and TR Love watched breakdancing, graffiti and rap emerge to create hip-hop culture.
Until the mid-80’s, rap music was a 12-inch single phenomenon. Records were broken in the clubs and on the streets, and if you were a hip-hop head in New York between ’86 and ’89, there was nothing that would make you dash to a record store faster than a new jam from Ultramagnetic. Their 1986 single “Ego Trippin gave rap music a swift kick in the ass, as the first “Substitution’ drum loop combined with funky futuristic rhymes delivered by Kool Keith and Ced Gee in ill, unorthodox cadences set Ultra apart from the pack. A string of street smashes followed, including “Funky,” Feelin’ It.’ “Watch Me Now,” and “Chorus Line” (which featured the debut of Tim Dog) and Ultra’s hardcore rep was established. “Chuck D calls us the kings of the singles,” Ced Gee laughs.
The Critical Beatdown album, dropped in ’88 on Next Plateau Records, contained more classic jams like “Ease Back.” and “Give The Drummer Some.” Hard ghetto beats combined with a dusted, abstract lyrical approach made Ultramagnetic kings of the New York underground. But Ultra’s music and lyrics were so different perhaps ahead of their time that the New York fever didn’t lead to widespread acceptance.
Ultramagnetic has always been a strictly hardcore crew, but there’s an outrageous, bizarre side that is best personified by Kool Keith (and his alter ego Rhythm X). Keith would call an MC a germ or a parasite before calling him a sucker. The self-proclaimed “greatest MC in the whole wide world” seems to exist in a science fiction fantasy world, yet he remains grounded in the Bronx street culture.
Ultra officially reappeared last summer, contributing beats for Tim Dog’s “Fuck Compton” single and solo album, and doing a few shows here and there. As a crew, they’ve been on the down-low lately going through the agonizing process of switching labels but now they’ve got the Mercury juice for their long overdue second album, Funk Your Head Up. My interview found Ultra in their record company conference room, crackin’ jokes and munchin’ on Chinese food.
The Source: Talk about Ultra’s beginnings in the Bronx and your roots as a group.
CED: Since I was young and couldn’t really hang out, I’d have to wait until my mother and father were asleep. And I’d sneak down the fire escape to listen to the old park jams and stuff, and that’s how I got into the culture. You know, seeing brothers spin, breakdancing. the dress codes. First I was just an admirer, I used to go to parties to see Flash cut and I’d try to rub up on girls and stuff, but I was always a ballplayer. Keith and I went to high school together and then I went to college to play ball. When I came back in ’84, Keith was doin’ what he was doin’, and then I started to do a little something on the side with drugs and I felt we both needed to stop this. 1 saw it was going nowhere because I saw friends getting locked up, so I told Keith we need to get together. Moe was out in Brooklyn illin’. He just got out of jail, so I said, “Moe you need to get your shit together.” Anyways, he got himself together and started DJ’ing for us, and then we put Trev down after the single came out and blew up in ’86. Trev worked at Rock & Soul in a NY record store.
TREV: I was the guy with all the beats running behind guys like Bam, ’cause I was trying to get on.
Keith, what about you?
KETTH: Well I was hanging out with some kids, you know, selling crazy drugs, crazy coke and shit. I was down with the Shack Crew in Manhattan, but I had been gong to rap parties way back to the T-Connection days. breakdancing and stuff, seeing guys like Charlie Chase and Theodore spin. The best MC’s out back then was like Caz and Melle Mel, then there were guys like the Treacherous Three and Fearless Four who came out later. The only person who was kind of dope back then was Special K [of the Treacherous Three], he was T La Rock’s brother. He was nice with the offbeat rhyming style and using complex vocabulary. That’s what kind of inspired me for the big-word technology shit I used on “Ego Tripping.” Us, Special K and T La Rock were some of the first people to use advanced vocabulary and offbeat delivery.
How did Ultramagnetic develop its sound?
KEITH: So many groups make weak-ass albums with no bottom, no distinctive loops, they use a lot of peanut butter loops. When you play an Ultramagnetic record in a car with a nice system it sounds thick and you get your money’s worth. Plus, I was the only technological futuristic rapper when everyone was like “yes, yes y’all and you don’t stop.” They had style but they were using baby words. Special K had a style that could come out on a record now. His style was crazy advanced. That’s one thing about the Treacherous Three is that they always used dope vocab. Even Moe had delivery and vocabulary. Treacherous Three was one of the most lyrical groups from back then.
Even though you dis Moe Dee on “Plucking Cards” on the new record?
KEITH: Kool Moe was dope as far as technique, but there is a lot of shit that Kool Moe don’t got that I do. See he wanted to step to LL cause he thought LL, was lyrical, but LL is not the one to battle lyrically. He should step to real competition. Kool Moe walks around with his glasses on like he’s the Space Invader of rap. like rappers are supposed to fear him, but he ain’t doin nothin’ to the X as far as lyrics are concerned. But don’t get me wrong. I like Kool Moe.
CED: That’s the difference. We love him but it’s also a competition. Like a basketball game. You shake after the game but you still want to score thirty on your opponent.
Ultra has enjoyed huge popularity in London and other cities in Europe. Why do you think that is?
KEITH: In Europe, we’re like the Beatles. No bullshit. I never thought we were so popular until we got off the plane and rode to London. Kids was waiting for us. People would come up to us speechless because we were Ultra.
CED: In London and Europe there are a lot rebellious young people. And hardcore music itself is rebellious. and so is rap culture.
KEITH: They studied rap like scientists.
CED: When the real stuff would come overseas they would really appreciate it more so than even the United States. That’s the kind of sad thing now because New York used to be the one place that really appreciated true rap.
KEITH: We don’t even have a culture anymore. LA has more of a culture than New York has now. Remember how we used to have our own styles? Everyone wearing Lee’s and shit. Now everyone is confused. You’ve got rappers wearing make-up, wigs on their heads, wearing Fred Astaire-fur coats, glitter onstage, prostitutes with boots on. What kind of shit is that? Groups don’t stay true.
CED: As a culture, New York has lost a lot. So that’s what we’re here to do along with a few other rappers that have stayed true like Eric & Ra and BDP. In THE SOURCE interview with KRS, what he said was true. If rap was to play out today, how many of these groups out there today would continue to do it? Not many, because they’re fake. We love it, we lived it and if it played out tomorrow we’d still do it.
Ced, a lot of people don’t know about your involvement with BDP in the beginning.
CED: Me and Scott La Rock grew up together, and when Scott was making demos I was the only person in the projects and maybe the Bronx at that time who had a drum machine, the SP-1200, in like ’85. So Scott would come up with his records and we would put the stuff together.
Criminal Minded was a joint production thing. I would do all the programming,KRS put his suggestion in, I would put my suggestions in and it was like a Ced Gee and Boogie Down Productions produced album. And what happened was the label they were on was a criminal minded label, and somehow I got lost in the credit. The label was crooked and did a lot of crooked things and that’s why KRS left and they’re out of business.
What type of response are you looking for on this record?
CED: We’ve been around for a while and we’ve seen groups come in hot and leave in a flop while the good groups maintain. It takes a while for the good stuff to get its due though. Biz was around on the underground scene way before he got accepted commercially. What we did with this album is we grew from the last one. It has similarities with many different styles and like “Speed Of Thought” was a record from left field, “I Like Your Style” is from left field in its own way. You can never predict Ultra.
KEITH: It all boils down to how you feel. You gotta grow up you can’t stay a kid for long. I’m not going to be rapping like Chi Ali for the rest of my life. I’m a grown fuckin’ man. I’ve got new lyrics, I’ve matured. All that space Elroy shit was back then. I was on mescaline tabs back when I was writing that ill shit. We’ve been through stress, problems, changing labels, having no money in our pockets, almost starving how the fuck can I come back writing about Buck Rodgers?
Do you think people will hear a song like “I Like Your Style” and be like “Aww Ultra went out on some R&B shit…”?
CED: We didn’t sell out! Like I said. we probably had the wildest record ever made in rap with “Traveling At The Speed Of Thought” and we did a fucking video for it that was dumb, dumb, triple work! A record is a record. “I Like Your Style” is a dope street record like “Round The Way Girl” about females.
Keith, you want to discuss your solo album?
KEITH: It’s going to be called Straight Outte Belleue Into Creedmar mental hospitals in New York’. It’s some of my true life stories like when I was in white sheets in an asylum. I was in Creedmore and Bellvue and I was taking alot of medication for mental stress and manic depression. I used to write a lot in the hospital and these guys would come to visit me. but I got myself together. You know, therapy, jogging everyday, hallucinating. I got myself out of there. I used to read THE SOURCE magazine in fact when I was in there that’s when I cut my head bald. There was this doctor there who was real cool to me. He used to give me tapes and I would write rhymes to them when I was there. I felt when I cut my head bald I was open to the whole world. You know Moe here is an ex-convict.
MOE: Yup. Did time. Did four years in Rikers for attempted murder back in 85.
CED: I’ve been a ballplayer all my life. I was always smooth on the court, with the females, making my money on the street. I was always smooth. And Trev is the mama’s boy (everyone bursts out laughing).
TR: But if you fucked with me the wrong way your head was gone.
Any final words?
KEITH: I’d like to give credit to the real MC’s. And all those motherfuckers who sold out and think they’re large… I think they need to go lick shit.
KOOL KEITH – (RHYTHM X) ABSTRACT LYRICAL MICROPHONE WIZARD
CED GEE – MAGNIFICENT BEATMASTER, SMOOTH RHYME OPERATOR
T.R. LOVE – BEAT CONTRIBUTOR, ILL RHYME ASSASSIN
DJ MOE LOVE – STEADY SKILLS ON THE 1 & 2 ‘S
THE SOURCE • JUNE 1992.