Professor Griff Dropping Some Knowledge

Matty Kerr is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to the full episode on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.

Some things may be controversial. Some things may be, it may prick your consciousness. Some things may work your nerves, but nonetheless, after meeting me, you will think about some things.

So I’m from Roosevelt, Long Island, New York. I started out as a percussion player with the music thing, ended up doing the DJ thing, then walked into the Public Enemy thing. And so I’m a musician. I call myself a writer, but I’m more of an artist, creative thinking kind of individual that puts concepts together. I tend to put those things together that I know that I feel that would work.

My mom is from the South and was brought up in the church. So every Saturday morning I was watching Kung Fu flicks while my mother was playing loud gospel music. And sometimes I’d hear some soul, some classic song. Sometimes I’d hear some other stuff until my mom had to take on a third job. And then I started hearing what my brothers and sisters, my older brothers and sisters were playing. I was always drawn to percussion. I’ve learned how to play the GBE and every other percussion African percussion instrument. And it just stuck with me.

The Public Enemy thing came about very organically, bringing the revolutionary mindset, having to navigate through what was going on in New York with gangs and whatever else. The elements that make up Public Enemy, Terminator X, the Bomb Squads production, Professor Griff, and the S One W the militant aspect it on the security level, all of those elements kind of came together under the leadership of Chuck because Chuck was the one with the deal.

Chuck had said from the start, you know, we only doing this for a couple of years and then we then we’re out. Right. And we, and sometimes we would ask, like, why he said we’re probably into either end up either being in jail or dead. So the idea was to shake up the industry, put some things on some people’s minds, shake it up, get in, get out.

We was actually a DJ unit. We called ourselves Spectrum City. It was Hank Shockley, T Shockley, Chuck D, Professor Griff, Dre, Jerry J, and there was a few more DJs that rolled with us and we were doing parties. Then we had other musicians and other talented people that would roll with us to do the live music thing and to do some other things. So that was the musical aspect of it. So it was simply Spectrum City. All of the members that were in Spectrum City became part of either the Bomb Squad or Public Enemy. The Bomb Squad was a production team.

The DJ thing was born for us in the park, in the dark, in the Bronx. The genius of creating this thing that we kind of overlook today, called the mixer, was an invention that came out of the mind of a black man, DJ Flash. No one ever thought to go to Radio Shack, to put some components together, to go from this turntable, to that turntable… who would’ve thought to find those records, to find that one little space that was a drum beat on a record or out of a creative record that keep the party going all night? You had to be a borderline genius to do that, man. That’s a magic.

You go to your mom’s record collection, okay? You borrow it from your mom and you got to find the break. That’s why, when we started dancing to the break, that’s why we had called ourselves break dancers, dancing to the break. Okay. So to shorten the word break dancer up, we just called ourselves B boys. It’s like, you know, I know there’s a break in a Gladys Night and the Pips song or Midnight Train to Georgia or whatever. I know I could speed that up and, and, and go, uh, get two copies and rock the break back and forth.

And that’s what happened with all of those old, older records and artists that came out. We took them listened. We’ve been hearing them all, all our lives and we just took them, repurposed them and made it happen.

I’d start off with, of course a tempo. You understand what I’m saying? Then I would go out and program a beat to lay the foundation. All right. And then if I, if I wanted it to be a little bit more organic, I would play the drums myself or hire a drummer. I’d say, listen, I need a four, four kind of time signature. Um, this is the tempo. I’m gonna give you a metronome. And um, yeah, this is the kind of beat I want. And then from there I would lay that straight out and I’d, you know, I’d fill it in with the musical aspects of where I want that particular song to go. If I want some horns, I either bring some horn players in or go on my trusty keyboard and pull up some horns and put some chords in myself. So I’m, I’m putting the elements in where this I’m doing it myself or I’m hiring other people all right. To play what I’m asking them to play, because I wanna be able to feel this idea through and match this up and sync this up with my concept of what I want the song to sound like. The only person that knows what I want the song to sound like is myself because it’s in here. So I’m bringing it from its concept to its completion. Once I get it to the point where, um, it’s to the point where I can mix it, let me mix it right. Let me get a, let me take it to someone that’s good at mixing. They could mix it and then someone that can master it and then my song is done. So I’m producing the song

I came to that because way before rap was rap because we did hip hop before hip hop was hip hop. We rapped before rap was rap. So I pulled from that and wanted to express myself. When I heard Gil Scott Harron, when I heard Nikki Giovanni, when I heard the Last Poets, when I heard the Watts Prophets, I said, wow, that’s it right there. And then all I needed was some organic instruments, the wind instrument, saxophones, um, some of the wood, brass and steel drums, percussions, all of those things, you don’t have to plug in, you could just play. And it became very organic for me to do my poetry over that, which was a beautiful thing.

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Matty Kerr

Matty Kerr

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!