New York MC Will Porter speaks on the state of NYC hip-hop, his track ‘Mecca Audio Chant’ feat. Sadat X (Brand Nubian) and Dres (Black Sheep) and his mixtape produced by Ron G.
Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
HHF: Now you’re from East Harlem I saw this quote from one of your rhymes, ‘They always said that a rose grew in Spanish Harlem, with the cracks I have emerged from, I am surely destined to break out ..,’ talk to me about the hip-hop scene in East Harlem and what it’s like living there.
Will Porter: Where I come from, you grow up with a sense there’s a dark cloud over, you know (Porter says hi to someone, he’s walking through the streets as he speaks on the phone). A close childhood friend of mine died last night, so I’m still mourning, It’s not pretty like how it’s portrayed, you know a rose in Spanish Harlem, there’s a lot of adversity, sometimes it gets to you, you know. You walk around and all you see is drug scenes and you’re like, Damn. I don’t know, it’s definitely a place where you got to overcome adversity to grow.
HHF: How has this informed the local hip-hop scene?
Will Porter: There really is no hip-hop scene coming out of East Harlem – A$AP Rocky, maybe. He’s from 116th. But there’s really not that many, there’s Dave East, he’s cool, but nine out of ten people from East Harlem they don’t know who he is. (Porter greets someone else) I don’t really know him to say he is from East Harlem. The only one we got is A$AP Rocky. There’s so much talent in my neighborhood that’s the purpose of my mixtape: I put some people who I think should be on right now.
If you weak-spirited it definitely will break you down. You look at the hip-hop scene you don’t see nobody from East Harlem.
HHF: Let’s talk more broadly then, as you say on your mixtape you’ve got people from Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, but I didn’t see Brooklyn mentioned there; I was curious about that. Do you think those first three locations are where the energy is now in the city?
Will Porter: No, oh no, I love Brooklyn first of all (laughs). I don’t know what was going on when I wrote that, but the energy is there is Harlem, let’s say you’re an MC, you know you think you nice and you walk down the street and there’s some kid nicer than you, and you’d be like, wow, he’s just a kid. There’s a lot of energy as far as music.
As far as Queens, I never really been to Queens at that much; I been to Jam Master Jay’s studio – I like that energy, it was fun. I reach out to Queens, and yeah I definitely reach out to Brooklyn, you know that’s where it’s at. Brooklyn’s got more of a buzz than Harlem – they got Maino, Brooklyn’s got it on, always.
HHF: You know some people are negative about what’s going on in New York these days, they say it’s kind of quiet or it’s dying or something, what’s your assessment of hip-hop in the city; both at the community level and the more mainstream guys?
Will Porter: It’s not the lack of community, it’s not the lack of us trying, my answer is not politically correct, but I feel like there’s an agenda in the industry right now: you see a lot of the famous rappers, they’re wearing dresses, it’s kind of like they look like females – they’re feminizing the MC in the industry right now. That’s what they’re doing and it’s not cool. You see all the artists, Young Thug and all these guys – I don’t even know their names; I just look at them and I’m like, Damn man really? It’s like they’re feminizing the MCs basically, now dresses are cool, they look like cross-dressers that’s what’s going on in the industry.
Unless you know somebody that’s big, you got to look like that, you know what I mean? And it’s sad, you watch XXL Magazine Freshman Class, and you’re a hip-hop fan, you’re like really? These are the people they’re putting out? Sad, man, that’s what’s going on.
It’s not that people in New York ain’t trying, or people in New York don’t rap no more. There are so many nice MCs who’ll probably never make it in New York cause of that simple fact, they’re really feminizing the MCs that’s what I feel is going on.
HHF: Talk to me about your influences, I saw you mentioned KRS-One, Kool G Rap, Wu Tang, Big Pun, can you choose one and talk about how they influenced your style?
Will Porter: Wu Tang influenced me because first of all in that era, it was 10-12 kids being together always, in the 90s it was all cliques, you know. It wasn’t gangs, it was cliques. You’d have the 10-15 kids at the same time, hanging out together, growing up like family on every block. When the Wu Tang came out, it was like oh shit, that could be us you know.
It was like I related to them, it was like the tribe, or family. Wu Tang that’s why they’re big on me.
HHF: That’s interesting, cause with your track ‘Mecca Audio Chant’ I can see the connections with what you’ve just said; it reminded me of that collective spirit from the 90s – and includes some stars from that era (Sadat X from Brand Nubian and Dres from Black Sheep). What were you aiming for?
Will Porter: Basically what’s that about is it’s me, Dres from Black Sheep and Sadat X from Brand Nubian and Kyss Major and we’re just paying homage to the song, the original. And what it is my manager, Unique he used to own Club 2000 in 1980s/90s, it was like the biggest club in New York. And he’s been gone for 23 years, he comes home this year.
What we were doing is raising funds in a campaign. We’re trying to get Unique out early, trying to get the President to pardon him. That song was basically just us paying homage to him and trying to do something positive and help him get out early.
HHF: What were you trying to communicate in your verse?
Will Porter: My verse, well my verse, in the reality of it when Club 2000 was going I was just a little kid I couldn’t get into it (laughs) that was when Puffy used to try to sneak into Club 2000 that’s how Unique know everybody. I really couldn’t get into the clubs at that age, so in my verse I say what I used to do, I used to take trips to Brooklyn and hang out with people totally different to me. That was my era, I was like a wanderer, so when you hear my verse it’s everywhere, because while everyone was in Club 2000 that’s what I was doing (laughs).
HHF: How did you get Sadat X and Dres to guest on the track?
Will Porter: Well, with the mixtape some people I grew up with, some people I know from the area and I told everybody on social media to send me the music, not so many people did this and I was like, okay this is your chance to be on Ron G’s mixtape – Ron G is a DJ legend. I gave a lot of people in my community the chance and the few that replied I put them on.
HHF: Brand Nubian and Black Sheep, they’re classic New York acts from that era.
Will Porter: Definitely, but if you ask nine out of ten nowadays about them, if you ask ten out of ten young kids out here, they’d be like. Who? But that’s how far different hip-hop the culture was different when I was coming up, it’s not the same. It’s feminizing the MC, like I said, wearing dresses, I don’t know man. I have no problem with gay people, you know, I’m saying the culture we know the real MCs – the Rakims, the Kool G Raps, they don’t know who those people are, the kids these days.
HHF: What can be done about all of this?
Will Porter: Hip-hop has to come full circle, because when the real hip-hop come back that’s going to open the door to the old: let me hear this Brand Nubian, let me hear KRS-One, let me hear Rakim, let me hear NWA (well, NWA did that movie so they’re mainstream, everybody knows them) but let me hear the groups that were real hip-hop back in the day. Hip-hop will have to come full circle for that.
HHF: What do you mean by ‘full circle’?
Will Porter: Right now I feel that hip-hop is in a phase where it’s dumbed down, you know, there’s no MCs out there, I mean the nicest rapper is Drake and he doesn’t even write his own rhymes. I love Drake, I love his music, but that shows you how far hip-hop has gone – back in the 90s, the early 2000s, the 80s you couldn’t be an MC and not write your music. Hip-hop is in a totally different era, right now they need to go back to an era where the real MCs and there’s music of substance and it’s conscious rap, if it goes back to that era – like the ‘golden era’ – people will be more open to learning about the history, but right now the MCs are just worried about what’s the next dress to wear (laughs).
HHF: How about the female MC on the track, Kyss Major, she’s fantastic.
Will Porter: That was the first time I was introduced to her, she’s an old friend of Unique’s – my manager – she has some good music, she’s going to be on my second mixtape too. I like her man, she raps, she sings. She’s good people.
HHF: It’s produced by Ron G, who you mentioned just before, for people who haven’t heard of him, can you talk a bit about him some more?
Will Porter: Ron G is to hip-hop DJs what Hulk Hogan used to be to wrestling. Like when Hulk Hogan was out, and in our prayers and we were looking in the mirror trying to be Hulk Hogan – Ron G is that for hip-hop and DJ-ing. Ron G was the pinnacle DJ to get on his mixtape, he was the biggest, there was no-one close to him. There were lots of nice DJs, no question, but Ron G was it. He was the pinnacle, the top-notch: Ron G was it, as far as hip-hop culture, the streets and the community. Everyone wanted to be on a Ron G cassette (laughs) not CD, cassette. He was just the biggest.
This was early- mid 90s, after 96 when CDs started coming out and cassettes, well the DJ era (pauses) once the CDs came in, people like DJ Clue took over; now it’s a different DJs for today than when Ron G was out there. Ron G was doing everything, doing clubs, he was everywhere.
HHF: Let’s talk about your other track ‘Take a pic’ who produced that?
Will Porter: Rich Lou produced that, he’s out of East Harlem. He’s doing pretty good, God bless him, that was one of the first beats he ever made. I used that, that’s my banger right there. I perform that whenever I perform, they go crazy.
HHF: Okay about the mixtape, as you said you wanted to include different acts from New York, why is it important to be putting out mixtapes now?
Will Porter: Right now, it’s what I got to do with the biggest DJ, Ron G – for me personally I think mixtapes are kind of a waste of time, unless your signed already, because you can have all the neighborhood MCs, you’re going to see maybe 1000 downloads and 1000 mixtapes and nobody’s downloading the stuff anyway, but then if you look at Fabulous – he’s going to have one million downloads by afternoon. The artists who are mainstream are still doing mixtapes and that’s what’s killing the mixtape culture, for the artists coming up, that’s for them the mixtapes.
If Jay-Z is dropping a mixtape, what chance does my mixtape have? If Drake drops a mixtape, what chance does a regular guy coming up have, nothing, cause everybody’s going to be downloading Drake’s mixtape. Mixtapes are the new albums for the industry rappers and they make a lot of money out of them, but it hurts the up and coming artists, because our mixtapes don’t stand a chance against them.
HHF: How would you like to see things change?
Will Porter: I don’t know what can be done, honestly. You just got to stay strong to your spirit and you just got to keep punching. Treat it like a fight as a boxer in a boxing-ring, you just got to keep punching and don’t give up, And that’s it, man, you’re going to get that lucky punch in and you’ll win; as far as it changing, I don’t see how it can change.
It’s all digital now, so if Beyoncé get the itch, Beyoncé can put six songs together (laughs) and do a mixtape and go diamond and there’s nothing nobody can do about it, you know what I mean. It’s hard. The industry is totally screwed up as far as the way it used to be.
HHF: How do you place yourself in terms of a broader tradition of Latino MCs in New York – I know you mentioned Big Pun as an influence …
Will Porter: Well, like I’m a different case, I’m Puerto Rican but I grew up around Black people my whole life, if you listen to my music and you don’t know me, you’ll say, he’s Black and then you see me, and you think, oh he’s Puerto Rican, OK. I have more black influences than Puerto Rican – I live in Spanish Harlem, but it’s more black here than you think. I really gravitated more towards them than my own kind, and as I got older and older it became a stronger influence.
Now Big Pun the reason why he just brought all the Latinos together, now the Latinos believe, wow we can have an MC that’s nice. He shook the world and woke up a lot of people and they come close to that. Greatness brings people together, you know what I’m saying? Big Pun’s greatness was, oh man, I wish he were still alive, yes he brought us all together. Before him, everybody hung out with their own crews; besides Pun there was no Latin influences on my rapping.
HHF: How about your future plans?
Will Porter: I’m planning on being out there, I want to be out there (pauses) You know who is a major inspiration for me, Flo Rida, he was on it for years and years and never made it and then he turned 40 and all his peoples were saying, give it up and then he came out with one hit (laughs). And Flo Rida is a legend now for one hit, he’s life has totally changed. You got to pay thousands and thousands to see him perform (laughs) you know what I mean.
My manager knows everybody, I tell you LL Cool J was 16 popping bottles in his club, Puffy was sneaking in his club, he knows everybody literally. To be blessed like this (to have him working with me), he called me today and the things he got lined up, it’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be crazy and everybody’s going to be like how the hell did Will pull this off, I just want to show you all, that’s all.
HHF: Great, thanks so much for talking with us at Hip Hop Forum digital magazine today.
Will Porter: You’re welcome, any time.
Paris-based Madeleine Byrne is editor at Hip Hop Forum digital magazine, to read more of her writing on hip-hop and other music, go to madeleinebyrne.com.