Creature of Rebelmatic: The Patriarch of NYC's Hip-Hop Underground

Creature (Top) and Rebelmatic
Creature (Top) and Rebelmatic

Opening for Kool AD this Thursday night at Webster Hall is hip-hop-infused punk outfit Rebelmatic, a group fronted by MC and DIY-innovator Creature, a face familiar to anyone who's ever even walked near a hip-hop event in New York City in the past two decades. From his '90s output with his group Triflicts to his early-2000s appearances on records with everyone from MF Doom to Jin to selling his own albums featuring Slug of Atmosphere and Prefuse 73 hand-to-hand from his "office" just outside Fatbeats, encountering Creature has become a rite of passage for fans invested in New York's hip-hop scene. Currently balancing both Rebelmatic and his solo hip-hop work, as well as the recent announcement of The Triflicts recording again and putting out their unreleased demos this summer on France's Sergent Records, he's a busy guy. We spoke to Creature about his 20 years of pretty much doing everything. See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time: The Complete List

You were born in Harlem but raised in Corona, Queens. Do you recall your first exposure to hip-hop? The first exposure that I remember, outside of hearing "The Message" on boomboxes and stuff, that really gravitated to me was hearing Run-DMC's "Sucker MCs." I remember going to the pool and someone had it on a boombox. Seeing everyone gravitate toward that song and knowing Run-DMC were from Queens, that made it a big deal. I heard it and was like "Oh, OK. This is what they're doing."

How did The Triflicts first come together and then link up with The Beatnuts? Triflicts came together from me and my partner Buc Live going to high school together. I went to GED school in Corona, and I met Gab Gatcha. He heard me rhyming to some girl in the lobby, and we all got together in '91. The Beatnuts are from around our neighborhood, so from 91-93 we started making demos and getting better at writing songs together. Around '93-'94 we met Juju of the Beatnuts, and our manager at the time, J.B., who grew up with Juju. He had a direct relationship with him, and we had [a reputation] in the neighborhood as kids who could rhyme [so] by '94 we got a deal with 4th and Broadway/Island. Gab made his debut on the first Beatnuts album and mentioned Triflicts, and that's what set-off The Triflicts on record.

How did Hydra Records come into play? After Island didn't put out our single, J.B. and Juju had a relationship with Jerry at Hydra and [told us] that Jerry wanted to put out some of our stuff. We recorded new stuff with Juju, and that wound up being the "Genuine"/ "Don't Make Me Try" single. It came out in like '96.

What was it like putting out a single in that era right before the underground-independent NYC underground's changing of the guard? It was huge. The hugest thing for us was getting on Stretch and Bobbito. They played our 4th and Broadway demo first, "I'm Terror," and then they played "Genuine" and, for us to be up there, that was as big as getting signed. To be up there and being able to rap up there, that was it. Having a single out then, that was everything. That was big. This was a period where only a select few recorded demos, so if you had something tangible, you were a part of history. Even if you never made anything else, having a vinyl was being a part of history, a contribution to hip-hop. Hot 97 played our stuff too in a song battle against Goodie Mob. I love Goodie Mob, and Goodie Mob won, but Tempestt Bledsoe was like "I like Goodie Mob, but I want to give it to Triflicts." It was so weird to hear our name on the radio, but it was huge.

But you only put out the one single as Triflicts, right? What happened to us was, Gab came out with a solo record in '97 on Hydra. They wanted us to do another single, but we didn't want to do it. Buc had stopped rhyming, the direction was different at that point. I didn't have the vision to see it would make sense to do something. I just kind of kept putting money in my pocket and Gab wound up doing a Beatnuts produced single in '97 and got locked up for a while. He did seven out of ten years. I kept doing solo stuff and wound up on the first X-Ecutioners album. Around that time I linked up with Rob Sonic, Sonic Sum and Mike Ladd, people like that. That was my next collective, Sky Pimps. That was the late 90s, rhyming in cyphers in the downtown clubs. Cultivating stuff, and around the first Sonic Sum album was how I met El-P, Sole and Antipop Consortum. From the Triflicts, I went into a different kind of scene. I was on the Infesticons record and then I wrote a hook on the Jin record in '03. My cousin was around Ruff Ryderz and stuff, and so I was around at the right place at the right time, I wrote a hook and it wound up being the single.  

That same year you were on MF Doom's Viktor Vaughn album. Yeah, I did a record with that label Sound Ink in 2001 called "Human Error." The dudes from that label met me at a spot called Brownies on the Lower East Side and they were looking for MCs who would fit their label. I was on the b-side of the "Monday Night Fluids" single with MF Doom and Kurious Jorge. They played Doom my song, he enjoyed it, and I was a huge KMD fan. They wanted me on the posse cut and I did it. I never knew the effects of that record, I went on tour the next year with Rob Sonic and people said "You're Creature from the MF Doom joint!"

In 2004 you had the song "Sniper Picnic" with Rob Sonic and Hangar 18 in a Tony Hawk video game, and you put out the Never Say Die EP which featured Slug from Atmosphere on it. At what point did you begin setting up shop and selling your music hand-to-hand in front of Fatbeats? After I came back from that tour, I was down to my last $23 and wanted to do something that wasn't going back to regular working. I had done it before, but never on a full time not-working-a-job kind of thing. In '05 it was a situation where I believed in my music and had a quality product.

At that point, only Percee-P and Lucky and Sdaerd were the only ones actively pursuing that route.

A bunch of people sold CDs in front of Fatbeats. Jin did it, L.I.F.E.long did it. As far as the consistency, the first name that comes up is Percee-P, the second is probably me. We're some of the names that when people thought "Fatbeats" and "CDs" they thought of us.

Right, because Lucky and Sdaerd mostly did the Tower Records on West 4th Street, that was their territory. You and Percee had Fatbeats. And then there were the subhuman scum scam artists in front of the Virgin Megastore. Yeah, I had so many conversations about "those guys." I relate it to, some people are in it for a buck, and some people are in the hip-hop/punk rock spirit of if nobody wants to put something out, you do it yourself. You going to complain nobody wants to put our record out? The people will tell you, if you're out there for a minute and get no positive feedback, maybe it's not good. That's what separates the guys from the ones people remember and the guys who...

...Just want to intimidate tourists. Yeah! I'm not looking for tourists, I'm looking for people who want to hear music. I'm not hear to sell your a blank CD or intimidate you to buy it. My name is already out there, why would I want to put money on it? Most guys are not out there connecting like that. Percee on me were on records and at shows as well, so when that all connects, plus you have a history and a CD with people that people know on it. That's what separates us from the pretenders.

Do you still do the street hustling with the CDs? I do it occasionally. I'm not out there how I used to me. I'm not afraid to get some money and communicate with the people, but it's not the same value. I got two kids now, and I got a band and we play all the time. I do it, but I'm not out there six days a week constantly. I might go out a couple days. People may not see me for a month or two, but I'm out there.

Was there any interest from labels to put out your music after you had began hustling? Yeah, but nothing that made sense. After being in magazines and getting some accolades, what were [they] offering? To put it out and split profits? I've already made that already. I know what it costs to press 1,000 CDs, and the fact that I'm already getting press for this without a publicist, I wasn't offered anything substantial. This was before blogs became huge when word of mouth was a big thing. Now, you can be like "I sold 10,000 CDs on the street." "That's cool, these guys gave away an album and got 50,000 downloads, and they're playing this big festival and you're in the sun selling 25 CDs a day."

How did Rebelmatic come together? Before I started rhyming, I was in a hardcore band. I got to a point where I felt like, in hip-hop, I hit a ceiling where, especially live shows, I couldn't express what I wanted to express. My energy was at a different point. I felt it was time to shift, and I ran into a guy who remembered me from high school who wanted to put a band together and we've been together since '08. We put a record out and played the Afropunk festival last year, it's been great.

Has it been a challenge to balance having Rebelmatic and the solo hip-hop career? At one point, it was a challenge. Then, at one point I had to go with the momentum of what people were dealing with more. At one point, people wanted Rebelmatic more, but my hip-hop people were like "I like it, but we want to hear you rap." On the new Rebelmatic stuff, I'm not rapping at all, but I have a new rap project too. It's using different parts of the brain, and it used to be "this is the best idea I have right now." With solo stuff, you're dealing with a producer. With a band, you're dealing with every personality that's in that band. Just to practice, you have to call four people to make one practice. But, the dynamic pays off. I'm real excited to be rapping and I'm really excited about the band. The Kool AD show will be strictly with the band, no rapping at all. If you haven't seen us in a few years, it's like a different band. I wanted to take things in different directions.

Do you see much of a difference between the underground scene now and 5-10-20 years ago? Yeah, in the underground scene, people don't buy physical music anymore. They're not even used to buying physical music. There's people who feel music should be given away. Five years ago, people had an idea they were supposed to be buying something. It's different. On the road, in a hip-hop aspect, people want to support you. In the rock world, people want to buy stuff, they don't care who else is on your album. People who want to support music are still there.

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