For almost three decades, Brooklyn MC Big Daddy Kane has remained a fixture of “Greatest Rapper of All Time” conversations. From his iconic singles like “Raw” and “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” to a live show that ranks — even today — among the most revered in the genre, his influence can be heard in the syllable-slaughtering and smooth-personas of just about every great rap artist to emerge in his wake. Kane returns to the stage tonight for two shows at the Blue Note with his new supergroup The Las Supper. Backed by New York funk outfit The Lifted Crew and joined by singer Showtyme, the performance looks to prepare the world for the crew’s upcoming album Back to the Future. We spoke to Kane and Showtyme about working on Kane’s first new album in a decade, as well as bringing his lauded live show to the Blue Note stage.
What makes The Las Supper album different from your solo projects?
Kane: It’s basically a vibe that showcases vintage soul mixed with vintage hip-hop and making them coincide. Lifted Crew is a funk/hip-hop band that brought live instrumentation to the table and Showtyme brought his raspy soulful voice. It came together to form a picture that portrayed soul music and hip-hop starting at the same time in the ’50s and ’60s and imagining hip-hop being a part of soul music and seeing it work together.
Being that you’ve always had an influence of soul music in your work, early on did you ever envision yourself performing and recording with a full band?
Kane: I’m gonna be honest with you, back in the day I saw MC Shan use a band and I saw LL Cool J use a band and I thought that it didn’t look good. I really thought it took away from the feel of the sample from the original hip-hop tune. But then, I went on the road in ’91 with Patti Labelle, the stuff I learned that I could do with a band, like stopping for a breakdown or calling for a saxophone solo, that I couldn’t do with a DJ just made me feel like it was a bigger picture in a different way. But, I never saw a way of making the two connect, and [The Las Supper] is the way of making that connect. When you hear the album, you’ll hear that it sounds like something Pete Rock or Premier or RZA would grab and sample.
That in mind, how different was recording The Las Supper album as opposed to your solo records?
Kane: (laughs) For one thing, it was a lot easier because I didn’t have to do a whole bunch of rapping. I just had to stick a verse here and there, which made my life a lot simpler. Overall, it was just interesting watching cats come in the studio and lay their parts down in that jam session fashion where bass, guitar and drummer are in one room and the organ player’s in another room and they’re running it down at the same time. [It] made it feel like I was there in the Motown days.
You’re probably most celebrated for your iconic high-energy live show. Do you have a particular ritual before you perform?
Kane: Depending on how my throat feels, I have a habit of eating jalapeno peppers and a tablespoon of honey before I go on. It’s to coat my throat and keep the pipes wet. Mainly, I just like to have a moment of silence so I can focus with nobody asking questions so I can remember what’s supposed to be done.
What made you choose the Blue Note for back-to-back shows to launch the album?
Kane: I [thought] about those records you see like Les McCann Live at the Blue Note, Curtis Mayfield Live at the Bitter End, Otis Redding at the Whisky-A-Go-Go and I thought “we need to get one of those.” It needs to be how cats did it back then, a warm, intimate spot that’s more up-close-and-personal.
Showtyme, you’re most known for your recent work performing with hip-hop greats such as Pharoahe Monch. Do you recall your first time hearing Big Daddy Kane?
Showtyme: Yes, I recall I was in my crib watching TV and I seen a brother in the rain with all his gold chains on doing this crazy smooth shit, and I figured I wanted to get cuts in my eyebrows [both laugh].
Speaking of which, Kane, you’re one of the first hip-hop artists to bring the hip-hop imagery from the album/single cover into the music video format. Do you have a favorite video of yours that you feel best encapsulates that era?
Kane: “Smooth Operator” was a whole lot of fun, especially from the support we received. Kwame [came] down to be part of the video, Chris Rock, Al B. Sure. Kadeem Hardison came down to be part of the video, but we had to cut him out because he was wearing a shirt that said “Batman Sucks” and that was Warner Bros.
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What do you think makes for a great live show?
Showtyme: I think that, when you can link with your fans, it’s the number one thing. It’s so somebody can take something home from what you’ve done. Once you’ve done that and touched one person with something you’ve done, I think you’ve had a great show. People should come to shows and have life-changing experiences for their money.
Finally, Kane, being someone with so many landmark singles and verses in the hip-hop pantheon, is there any song of yours that you’re particularly proud of that you feel deserves more shine?
Kane: Yes, probably “Mortal Combat” from my second album. I think that lyrically, that was probably me at my best, but we had much bigger singles on that album so it never got the proper exposure.