King T is a legend. In 1988, Tipsy (as he’s also known) was joining MC Hammer and Too Short as one of the few West Coast acts signed to known labels like Capitol and Jive. During a career spanning four decades, Tila (as his friends refer to him) has released as many major label albums, Act A Fool, At Your Own Risk, Tha Triflin’ Album, and IV Life, introduced the world to Tha Alkaholiks and his Likwit Crew, unleashed one of the rawest emcees we’ve ever known in Xzibit, and has appeared on several classic songs with a who’s who of West Coast royalty by collaborating with Dr. Dre, Xzibit, MC Ren, DJ Muggs, Spice 1, Ice Cube, DJ Pooh, and Masta Ace, to name a few.
During this CrazyHood.com exclusive interview with Chad Kiser, King T runs down his beginnings in Hip Hop and the making of his 1988 debut with the help of long-time friend and producer DJ Pooh. We also get a peep into the ‘90s era with Dr. Dre, who signed Tila as one of the first artists of the Doc’s post-Death Row venture known as Aftermath Entertainment. In this interview, the Compton King reveals he was supposed to appear on a recent platinum album from the city, as well as his unheard collaboration with a G-Unit general.
Crazy Hood: As one of the first west coast artists to come out on a major label, making your debut in 1988 with Act A Fool, how did King T get in to rapping, and subsequently drop your first Capitol Records release?
King T: My main thing from the beginning was I wanted to be a DJ, I’m talking before Hip-Hop came to the West Coast, I didn’t know anything about rap, I was just into music. I loved to play music for my parents, and that’s all I knew. Once I got around 13 or 14 years old I really just wanted to be a disc jockey on the radio and in clubs. My mother moved me down to Texas at a young age to where I got my first opportunity to get on a radio station. I had took tricks down there that I had learned from listening to people like Egyptian Lover, Chris “The Glove” [Taylor], DJ Bobcat, Joe Cooley and I knew how to imitate it. They thought it was incredible down there and thought I was a prodigy and a genius. But I was still fucking up, I was young and my mother wanted me to go to school, but that wasn’t happening, so we moved back to California.
I ran into a kid named Scotty D who was fucking with [the club party] Uncle Jamm’s Army, and that’s how I got put on to Compton; that’s how I met DJ Pooh and Bobcat and it was just a dream come true to run into these guys that I had idolized. Pooh gave me the name King T and we just started doing demos from there. Scotty D hooked us up with DJ Unknown and the Techno Hop [Records family], and see Techno Hop had already had Ice-T and “6 ‘N the Mornin” out and all that shit. We went and did some songs like “Payback’s A Mutha,” ‘The Coolest,” “Ya Betta Bring A Gun,” and we didn’t get paid for that shit, but we took it as paying our dues. We lucked up on a lot of shit doing them records with Techno Hop because after we did that DJ Pooh and Bobcat went to New York to work with LL Cool J on the Bigger And Deffer album. So we took the records and gave them to [Grandmaster] Melle Mel and [Kool DJ] Red Alert, and it’s like “Payback’s A Mutha” was the first West Coast record to ever be played in New York. That’s how I really got my respect out there because we kept it with the boom-bap sound. A lot of the West Coast stuff out here was Electro except for a few people like Too Short and a couple of other cats. We tried to take stuff from LL, Rakim, and Kool G Rap and tried to put our west coast flavor on it. We did it and it ultimately got me a deal with Capitol Records, one of the first West Coast artists to get a major deal like that. And it was on after that!
Crazy Hood: That 1988 debut album Act A Fool is considered a classic hip-hop record on all coasts. Take me through the making of that record and working with DJ Pooh on that…
King T: It was just me and DJ Pooh; even though the logo says King T, we split everything. When we got the deal with Capitol, we flew to New York and recorded the Act A Fool record in New York and Chung King Studios. We wanted that sound, but we still wanted to keep it on a West Coast flavor type thing. Me and Pooh mapped all that out, it was just us and we enjoyed doing the album. That’s one thing people don’t know, is we started recording that album in New York, and taking the pictures was a real respectable photographer named Glen E. Friedman. He’s the one that gave us that image with the pictures, me walking with the shotgun on the front. He took all my album covers with Capitol. That made it a classic, the album cover.
Crazy Hood: You collaborated with Ice Cube on the 1990 album At Your Own Risk with “Played Like A Piano,” as well as on the Triflin’ album with “A Hoe Before The Homie” in 1993. Tell me about those sessions with Ice Cube…
King T: Well, we all worked in the same studio at Echo Sounds. We were always friends, and even though we had separate deals and different situations, it was us: Cube, King T, all of N.W.A. We were one, but we kept our shit separate. With “Played Like A Piano,” DJ Pooh was working with Cube already, so it was bound to happen. We came in the studio, came up with the funky piano beat. It was like, “Cube, come on and get on this.” That shit was nothing.
With “A Before The Homie,” that’s when Deadly Threat came into the scene. Ice Cube really liked Deadly Threat and Threat wrote a lot of shit for Cube and for me. He was just never able to get his shine. But that was just another joint we all came together on while being in the same studio. [Da] Lench Mob, Likwit [Crew], we just family really. And see, once Pooh got in with Da Lench Mob, he brought me in to produce for Cube; he brought Bobcat in to produce for Cube. A lot of people don’t know that I produced “Giving Up The Nappy Dugout” for Ice Cube on the Death Certificate album.
Crazy Hood: Also, during your time at Capitol Records is also when you also began developing Tha Alkaholiks and the Likwit Crew groups. Tell me about spearheading those collectives and bringing E-Swift, J-Ro, Tash, Defari, Montage One and Xzibit together…
King T: Tha Alkaholiks was around the Triflin’ album and Pooh was breaking off, doing a lot of work and producing for Ice Cube. We were all working together, but what happened was Cube had created Da Lench Mob and everybody had their crews, and putting their crews on. So we had to go and create something, and I had my DJ E-Swift, J-Ro was always with me since the early days and they was working on some stuff already as a group called ESP (Everyday Street Poets). We just said, “Fuck that, let’s create a group called Tha Alkaholiks.” We wasn’t even thinking of a Likwit Crew or anything, “Let’s just do an Alkaholik album.” We partied like a motherfucker [laughing] that’s all we did. People thought we was out there doing some crazy gangsta shit, but no we were on the road partying, drinking, fucking bitches and all kinds of shit. That’s what we wanted to be about so we created the group Tha Alkaholiks, which was E-Swift, J-Ro, and they brought out the cat Catastrophe [Tash] from Ohio who Swift had grown up with. We started recording and doing demos; somebody gave us a studio to work on demos and shit. [Loud Records founder/CEO] Steve Rifkind heard it and he signed the [album] with nothing; he signed that before Wu-Tang [Clan]. Tha Alkaholiks got good following because that’s where they kept it at, on some partying shit, college shit, and they’ve always been able to go on tour.
Tha Alkaholiks turned out pretty good, but with all that the Likwit Crew was created because everybody wanted to be down with what was going on. All kinds of emcees was coming to the table from Defari Herut, Montage One, and there was this one kid that stood out—because he hit The Wake Up Show and The Good Life and would just rip everybody—and it turned out to be Xzibit. He wanted to be down, so Swift put him down and we went crazy after that, we were a team.
Crazy Hood: After a nearly a decade of solo success at Capitol Records, working with DJ Pooh, creating Tha Alkaholiks and Likwit crews, and so forth, what prompted you in 1996 to link up with Dr. Dre after he left Death Row Records to form Aftermath?
King T: Me, Pooh, [Dr.] Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube had always been tight. When I mention Uncle Jamm’s Army, which was Pooh, Bobcat, Egyptian Lover and a couple of other cats [DJ’ing at], but there was another crew, too, called the Wreckin’ Cru and that’s where Dre, [DJ] Yella, and Arabian Prince was from. We all were always tight. When I went to record “Payback’s A Mutha,” we had to go borrow Dr. Dre’s SP-1200 to make that record. The thing with me and Dre is we always wanted to work together and do something, but like I said before it was just me and Pooh. When Dre got with Death Row [Records] it was something different about that situation to where, you know, it got a little crazy. When he left, it was the perfect opportunity because I had just left MCA Records. I didn’t do any demos, he hadn’t heard any new music, he just signed me to Aftermath, I was one of the first artists signed over there. We just went in, every day, recording. I had so much banging shit over there, and it was just a thing of always wanting to work together. He had the opportunity, I was free—no Pooh involved, no management involved, nothing. We just went for it, man.
Crazy Hood: I remember watching BET’s “Rap City” back in the day, when Big Lez was hosting the show, and that entire episode that day was featuring you and Lez hanging out at Dre’s mansion talking about the new album you were working on at that time, Thy Kingdom Come. What was your Aftermath experience like because judging by that show and your demeanor it looked like you were having blast?
King T: I was! It was a whole different game over there. When I signed the deal…I’m not going to speak about the money he gave me and things like that…but one of the first things Dre said was, “I have to make you comfortable. I have to make you comfortable enough to where you don’t have to worry about bills and cars so you can concentrate on what you in the studio doing. Bitches and all that type of shit, fuck that.” It was a different experience because I had never been with a label like that, and I had been at few before Dre. It was different because he was my homie and he was going to give it to me real, instead of a different type of motherfucker that’s just in the business signing me and not really giving a fuck.
Crazy Hood: We’ve all heard the stories and rumors of all the different artists who have came and went to Aftermath, but never dropped an album on the imprint. Bishop Lamont, Stat Quo, Hittman, Rakim, Eve, are a few who came and went, contributed to a few projects, but ultimately never released solo projects with Dr. Dre’s label. Since we’re talking, how come your Aftermath album didn’t receive a proper release over there, even after releasing the single and video for “Got It Locked”?
King T: I got a little too comfortable; I got into a comfort zone. I mean, I finished the album and I worked my ass off; Dre liked it and was into it. We shot some videos, planned on some singles and things like that, but then he sat me down and told me it wasn’t ready. My ego was like, “God damn, Dre always do this with artists.” But when I think about it today and listen to it, yeah, the shit was banging, but he was right. That’s why every time he puts out something, it’s slamming. I should have just sat my ass down and just listened and learned. I asked to leave, I asked if I could have my masters and he said yes to everything—except he told me he didn’t want me to leave. That’s the #1 mistake motherfuckers make. Yeah, you could leave and take your shit, but ain’t nobody going to put your shit out because they going to ask you why Dr. Dre didn’t fuck with you. “How’d he let you go like that?” And so you’re kind of blackballed in the situation. Everybody loves Dre, and it’s like why the fuck did you leave Dre, nigga? [Laughs] And you want me to put you out? But me and Dre got love, man, and we talk to this day.
Crazy Hood: Dre question, but I have to ask because it’s both the journalist and fan in me. Has King T put in any work in what was considered a Detox session?
King T: Yeah, I been through there and laid a couple of tunes. I don’t know if they’re coming out or not, but I actually did a song with him and 50 Cent on the song, just me, Dre and 50. I can’t remember what it was called, but 50’s hook or line that kept coming in so niggas could bust was “You can call it what you want.” I was also supposed to be on Kendrick Lamar’s “Compton” song, but I guess they took my part off of it.
Dre’s done a lot of shit for [Detox], but I been noticing that he’s been giving the songs away, putting them on different albums. I’m not going to say it’s not coming out, because I don’t know. You know what, I will say it: Detox is coming. I know Dre and he’s having such a wonderful time right now with his success right now. Actually, my first day going in to work on Detox, this is no lie, that’s when they were sitting there reading the paper of he made like a $130 million in one day. I was walking in on that, and we hadn’t seen each other in a long time and it was just like a celebration. We talked a little bit, but what could you tell this man? [Laughs] I think he’s bored with it right now, but he’ll come back to it like he always does, put it together, and it’ll be another epic situation.
Crazy Hood: I wanted ask you, because I had interviewed Too Short and he was telling me about song he’d done with Dr. Dre called “Man’s Best Friend” and—
King T: —That’s the best Too Short song I’ve ever heard in my life! The way he got Too Short rapping on that motherfucker, you’ll never believe it! I’m a leave that alone! [Laughs] I bet you Too Short is trying to get that shit! I’ll just leave that like that, man. I’m co-signing that that’s the best Too Short ever sounded and it’s a banging-ass Dr. Dre beat. It ain’t no regular Dr. Dre sound, it’s a new style.
Crazy Hood: As one of Hip-Hop’s pioneers and elder statesman, what’s your view on the music industry today, as far as its current state and where it’s headed? What do you think of some of the newer artists?
King T: Look, I’m just happy that I could even be sitting here in the studio working on shit and know that niggas is waiting on it. I can’t hate on the young cats that change the game because the game is going to change regardless. Even though I’m not down with the skinny jeans, I can’t hate on it; my kid’s love that shit and that’s for them. I like that Hip-Hop has so many identities now, that’s what keeps it alive, so how could you hate that? A lot of shit that Lil Wayne and all these motherfuckers talk about we wasn’t able to do back in the day. We couldn’t get on a record and talk about taking drugs, getting head, and having ménage a trios and things like that. The label wouldn’t put that out. But these motherfuckers can put that out, and even make a video to it. There’s a market for them to do a video to it. They can put nasty videos out and say what they want to say on WorldStar, [VladTV] and all them spots. We didn’t have that back in the day.
I’m an older cat and I see that there’s still a want for the shit that I was doing on that level of what people call gangsta shit, but I don’t like saying that. It’s not so much gangsta shit, but it’s just our type of music. I don’t know what I would call it, maybe just the King T shit. But I’m still here and I’m going to do what I’m going to do, if you like it you like it and if you don’t you don’t. I’ll do some shit on the kids level too just to see what’s up, not so far as the jerkin’ and all of that, but when I hear 2 Chainz’ shit, I have to get into it because my kids bang it so much. I got sound systems around this motherfucker, and the beats is banging. He sound like he’s my kid’s age rapping, but the shit is banging. [Laughs] He lets it be known that he’s different and I respect that. I can’t hate on that.