The Legend Of Snaggapuss: The Cult Bronx MC Who Rapped In A Cartoon Voice And Was Courted By Dr. Dre
Snaggapuss and Doo-Wop
Snaggapuss ingratiated himself to the early-'90s New York City rap scene through a series of guest verses recited in a tone resembling Hanna-Barbera's pink cartoon lion Snagglepuss. As part of mixtape master Doo-Wop's Bounce Squad, Snagga was prepped to emerge as the break-out solo artist of the bunch. But then the Bronx-based rapper seemed to vanish--until a series of recent new guest verses (often with a resurrected Bounce Squad) and the announcement of a new mixtape this week.
Checking in with Snaggapuss, he opened up about his wilderness years and spun a yarn that detailed a west coast move to work with California's hip-hop elite and a near-death experience back home in New York. Here's the Snaggapuss story.
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Can you remember when you first had the idea to rap in the Snagglepuss voice? Yes, it wasn't totally all my idea. Since I was young people compared me to the cartoon and said I talked like that. But before I was rapping on the Doo-Wop and Bounce Squad mixtapes I was working with the Trackmasters. I was on a conference call with Pudgee Tha Fat Bastard and Red Hot Lover Tone. Pudgee was an artist on Warner Brothers at the time and Trackmasters was working there. We were on the three-way just kicking around ideas and I'm not sure if it was Pudge or Tone but one of them said it and I was like, "Yeah, that kinda fits me, I like that!" They said I should incorporate the character's style. But people had already told me I sounded like the cartoon so it wasn't that far of a stretch. I was just trying to find a way to be me but still inject the Snagglepuss in there.
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Were you worried that people might think the voice was corny? Yeah, like you know the saying that says you can't please all of the people all of the time? I apply that to this day. When I first started it was the golden era of hip-hop. It was very hard to break a new artist and make a name for yourself 'cause you had Big and 'Pac and Wu-Tang. It was very hard to get in. But somehow through the mixtapes I'd earned the respect of those pioneers. That always felt like an honor and a great accomplishment. I'm a fan of our music and our culture so to be respected by people you looked up to and who broke down doors meant a lot to me. Even though I never really attained commercial success, I have that.
Even to this day when I post new music someone says it's a gimmick. But I check their profile and see their age and their image and they're 15-years-old and they've never heard of me. But for the most part I get respect from the pioneers in the game and in New York they have love for me. That's what I focus on. [Pauses] They used to tell me I sound like Humpty [Hump]! Then when I moved to California I met Shock G and he said he didn't think so. I had a long talk with him about it because the Luniz were my label mates at the time. Everybody has an opinion--I just take it with a grain of salt.
What was the first official record you rhymed on? Was it the Pudgee one? Yeah, the first record that I rhymed on was "Doin' MCs Sum'n Terrible." I believe that's it.
What were the Trackmasters like to work with back then? Oh, wow, that was an amazing experience. I feel like that might have set me up to prepare me for everything else. The work ethic was crazy. This was before brothers was doing it like that. It was eight or nine different brothers working on your material at the same time, even if you didn't meet them and whether or not you were there. Sometimes I'd come in and vocal a beat and come back two days later and it was a completely different track as they'd broke it down and built it back up again around my vocals. Their work ethic was crazy. I totally tip my hat to Hot Lover Tone and Pokey, I learned a lot from them. How did you come to be part of Doo-Wop's Bounce Squad? We lived in the same area of the Bronx and I was going to DeWitt Clinton High School at the time. There was a DJ there named Red Handed who did a mixtape. From that mixtape I met another DJ named Kool Kirk and did another mixtape. At the time Doo-Wop was looking for MCs. He had a battle to find an MC, and I went there with my friend and being that my friend was going to be in the battle I backed out of it 'cause I didn't want to cross swords with him. But a week later I got to meet Doo-Wop and he said he wanted to work with me and that he'd heard my mixtapes. So we clicked naturally. It wasn't a forced thing -- it felt like something that was meant to happen. We was doing something that we all loved and we were doing it together.
Was there a plan to release a Bounce Squad album then? That was the original plan and the original recording contract I signed was for the Bounce Squad. But once the group broke up they offered me a solo deal and Doo-Wop a solo deal some place else. But the original plan was to do a Bounce Squad album and then everyone could go and start their solo careers, similar to how Wu-Tang did. It never happened because of creative differences and other labels got involved; Death Row was real big at the time and they wanted me to move to California and work with a lot of west coast producers. It was just conflicts of opinion. The original A&R that had signed me passed away then the [label] president took over the project and you know how that goes --it's like changing chefs halfway through your dinner!
You mentioned the Wu-Tang Clan. What was working with Shyheim on "Get Down" like? He was another one of my label mates. He was very down to Earth, very humble, a fun guy to be around. At this time we were young; he was younger than me but we clicked immediately 'cause we were both in our young teens. Shyheim was a down to Earth individual and he's always been just somebody that's real easy to like.
A lot of people know you from your verse on Brand Nubian's "Step Into Da Cipher." Yeah, at the time when we were doing the mixtapes, Sadat X was from the Bronx originally and we were also managed by Sal Abbatiello from the Fever club. A lot of artists would come there and perform, so being that he was my manager, I got to meet a lot of them. Sadat told me he wanted to build with me and I went on by the studio. To be respected by these pioneers who I grew up listening to, it meant the world to me. It was probably like a check!
What's your favorite memory from the Fever during those days? I grew up within a five block radius of the Fever. I felt like it was home, like it was my living room. I would go in there and see all the people from my neighborhood, a lot of familiar faces. Some of my greatest moments were in the Fever club.
You mentioned moving to California at one point. What that when the Bounce Squad broke up? Actually what happened was, when the Squad broke up [the label] offered me a solo deal and I took the deal. In the neighborhood I lived at the time there was something going on where there was a shoot-out and I almost got grazed. I told the A&R, "I feel like someone was shooting at me!" So their plan was to take me to California so they could take me out of the 'hood and just focus on the music. I lived out there for two years and made some beautiful connections and friends; Xzibit is someone I met back then, before he had his first deal with Loud, and I was around the Alkaholiks and King Tee -- they took me in and I was kinda like an impromptu member of the Likwid Crew. I feel everything happens for a reason. It was part of my learning experience.
Did you record much music when you were in California? I recorded a lot. At the time I was on Noo Trybe/Virgin and they had a deal with Rap-A-Lot so I was able to go to Texas and work with N.O. Joe for a month or two. I recorded with the Liks -- E-Swift was doing tracks with me -- and producers from Oakland who did "I Got Five On It" too. So I did do a lot of recording out there and a lot of performing but a lot of the music was never released.
What did those unreleased recordings sound like? I don't wanna explain it in a way that's disrespecting anybody else, but it was along the lines that a lot of early Aftermath was trying to do. It was me as a lyrical type of dude from the east coast rapping over kinda g-funk-type beats. It wasn't completely west coast music, it was kinda in between. What I was doing back then was what everybody is doing right now. We caught a vision early that we could break down boundaries and supersede this east coast versus west coast thing by combining. That was our plan. But it never worked out. Although even now, a lot of New York rappers are leaning towards the midwest and the south kinda vibe and that was the plan for my album.
Who has those unreleased recordings now? Ah, man, I wish I knew! I breached a contract. The label didn't want me to leave 'cause I was over-budget so I made up a story and told them my moms was sick and I had to go back to New York. They flew me back and I said I wasn't coming back out west. I started shopping a new demo and the whole thing was anyone who wanted to sign me would have had to pay the money I owed to Virgin. At this time there weren't a lot of rap labels in a position to do that, besides Aftermath. So I got with Ski-Beatz, who produced a lot of Jay-Z's early work and Camp Lo, and put together a new demo and sent it out to Aftermath. [A&R] Mike Lynn got back and said, "Dr. Dre's interested. You wanna come out here for three days?"
When I came back out there I already knew people so I called Xzibit to the studio. It was a Dre studio, and it was kinda like, 'Oh, you know all these dudes already?" I remember Scarface came in with Dre to listen to one of my songs not knowing that I was there. I was sitting on the floor. Scarface was like, "Hey, that's the kid Snaggapuss, right?" Dre said, "Yeah." I was watching their reflection. They come around and I get choked up, but for Dre more than Scarface 'cause I met Scarface on occasions before. [Pauses] But the thing with Dre never panned out, I ended up getting into a bit of trouble, it was the end of the year and lawyers were on vacation and a friend at the time who was helping me on the management tip, we had a kinda falling out. So we just kinda let it go.
Did you have an album title in mind at that point? Nah, I didn't get that far. The way I like to work, I let the music speak for itself. I didn't get that far into it though.
Do you have any regrets from that time of your career? Plenty! But we gotta learn to live with regrets. The main thing that sticks out in my mind, and I told Xzibit this last time I was with him: I said, "Do you remember what you said to me when I told you I was going back to New York?" He said, "Yes, I told you to stay here and help me with my project and then we'll work with yours." He had just signed with Loud Records at the time. I'd say ego was one of my main things back then, so I was like I don't want to be this dude's hype-man whereas all my homies and all my friends and family back on the east coast are gonna say, "This dude picked up and left us to go out there for two years and be someone else's hype man." I had brothers on my team too that was looking for me to open doors and pull them through. So I left and I witnessed all the people I was around become more and more successful. But I've never been jealous, I've always been a congratulator. If someone so close to me that I know them on a personal level can be a success, maybe I can be the next on that line.
What else happened between your time in California and the music you've started putting out again now? Not too long ago I was laid on my death-bed. I got stabbed in the neck by one of my closest friends. I called his grandmother my grandmother; I ate at their table! So I almost died and this time I had tubes in my neck and I could barely speak above a whisper when I woke up from a three day coma they induced. It was someone who I've known since I was 11-years-old and recorded my first demo in my first experience in a recording studio. That was a total nightmare. They had to teach me how to chew again, how to swallow. So the fact I can speak now is a miracle, is a blessing. That woke me up. The universe almost took the ability to speak from me. So I know I have to take more responsibility for what I say. I had to adjust my content [of my music]. When I'm gone, all they're gonna have is my music. I don't want people to make the wrong assumption about me.
So does this mean we'll finally see a Snaggapuss album this year? Ha ha, maybe not! I've recorded about 55 songs, but it's not just all solo songs with me. I've probably done three of those. I have this Squad Musik thing which is a spin-off from the Bounce Squad. I have Shady Ray, who's a close friend of mine from the west coast, and Cassidy and Black Rob are on the team. But for me, my dream would be to drop one classic album. I'd like to do like my mentor, Slick Rick: I feel like with The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick he didn't have to do another album after that. It's a classic you can still drop in clubs today. I want to do my Ready To Die. But recently I've also been getting into acting. I just completed my third indie film called Living With No Regrets, directed by Jamal Hall. The cast is crazy. It's Clifton Powell who played Pinky in Friday, there's Treach, AZ, Maino, Mark Curry, and Havoc. There's so many. That should be released in March of this year. The rapping was supposed to be a stepping stone but I didn't utilize it to the best of my ability.
Anything else you'd like to say to anyone reading this? Yeah, just that hopefully this year you'll hear a lot more of my music. I don't want to offend anybody with my songs -- I just want people to have fun. If you hear my song I want you to forget about hanging tough and just enjoy yourself for a minute. If you follow me on Twitter I constantly post links to new music and free music. Check me out that way.
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