"It was funny because I tried to give him chapters of the book
early and he wouldn't take them. It was this really bizarre scene at
The Roots show in Boston I think last August and I was almost done
with the book. I went up to him and was like "what's up Ahmir?
Hey I've got some chapters here I want to give you" and he was
like "no, I can't take them." (laughs) I was like
"what the fuck are you talking about?" and I though he was
kidding. He said "nah man, I have to read the whole book at
once." Then I was like "well, I want you to see…"
and he said "nah." Then his road manager was like
"well I'll take 'em" and Questlove said "No! No ones
- Your first book "Rakim Told Me" received a lot of
good press and was well received by the general public and
artists themselves, was it easier to make the interviews happen
this time around?
Coleman - It was easier just to have something in hand. Some
people knew me from "Rakim Told Me" and some of the
people knew me from acquaintances or one of my other gigs at XXL
or URB. But yeah, it was easier to send them "Rakim Told
Me" and say "hey look, this is the company you are
gonna be in" and they could see that I really just wanted
to tell their story and wasn't trying to sensationalize
- What were the artists reaction when you tell them about the
book you're writing, are some of the older artists surprised
that they are being considered or sought out?
Coleman - Not necessarily. They seem to definitely be glad to
have the opportunity to speak in an extended way about some of
their early work and were eager to go back and talk about those
years earlier in their career.
- This time around with "Check the Technique" you put
it out through Villard/Random House, what was it like putting it
out through a major publisher like that as opposed to
self-publishing it like you did with "Rakim Told Me"
and how did the Random House deal come about?
Coleman - Working with them couldn't have been more different
from doing it myself, in both good and bad ways but mostly good.
The bad was in how long it takes from when you when you finish
to when it comes out. It's the same parallel as when you're
putting out your own singles and records and then you move onto
a major label. There's a lot of preparation that has to happen
and there's a lot more eyes that have to see it. With this book
as you can imagine there was a lot of legal stuff, the legal
team had to look over and make sure that you know, look out for
libelous and that kind of thing, and 500 pages is a lot to go
through. In the end it was great because I think the package
looks so much better, the artwork is great and I was lucky to
have B+ involved with the project because I have so much respect
for him. It was an amazing experience, it would have been great
if it could have happened quicker because I'm not a very patient
person but it was all good. I had two different editors on the
project who were very enthusiastic and very cool so I got really
lucky. I know a couple people who have put out books and had
really bad experiences, but I had really good one.
the deal, it came about as I was working on the next volume
after I had put out "Rakim Told Me." At the time I
didn't really care how the next book was released and I was
fully ready to put it out on my own again. Some friends of
friends were like "oh you should send to this guy, or send
it here" or "I know this guy at this publisher"
and I just happened to send it to this guy Adam Korn at Random
House and he really liked it and really kind of got it. The
publishing world isn't really set up to do this kind of a book,
this really isn't your typical sexy, New York Times bestseller
kind of thing. They don't want to work very hard and they want
to be handed over a book that's going to sell a ton of copies
and not have to work it so they took a kind of risk with it
because Hip-Hop books are still not really proven, although Jeff
Chang certainly is helping with that with everything's he's doing.
So he (Korn) had heard it and had read it, understood what I was
doing and wanted to work with me so I said, "Cool, let's do
it." I didn't get a ton of money for it but I got enough to
you know, I know what it takes to self publish a book and I know
what I needed help with, and the main thing was distribution
which I had no idea how to handle. I'm amazed I sold as many
copies of "Rakim Told Me" as I did on my own. Random
House is a huge, scary big ass conglomerate who are probably the
biggest publisher out there and they're under BMG who owns the
world, so to walk into a book store and know the book is going
to be in there which is crazy. You know with "Rakim Told
Me" I used to actually bring the book into bookstores and
place it in there guerilla-style hoping that people would bring
it up to the front desk and be like "I want to buy
this" and then store would be like "what the fuck is
this, we need to look into this."
- (laughs) Yeah, it wouldn't show up in their computers so
they'd have to go search for it on-line or something…
Coleman - Yeah, so I would do crazy shit like that because I
think it is a lot tougher to self-publish a book marketplace
wise than it is to put out a record on your own because of the
distribution. It's really difficult to get into Borders and
Barnes and Nobles, so it's great to have random House behind me
and I am definitely psyched to be with them.
- You mentioned B+ earlier who provided all the photos in
"Check the Technique" how did you hook up with him?
Coleman - I just called him up. My ideal was to have one
photographer because I wanted one person's eye and one person's
vision. I also knew it would be easier to license the photos and
I already had enough on my plate doing everything else so I
thought I would find the dopest photographer I know who's down
with what I'm doing and see what happens. It turns out he
already knew about "Rakim Told Me "when I called him
and he had the book or had seen it and liked it and was like
"yeah let's do this." The cool thing about it is that
I think he got to Los Angeles in like 1990 so he didn't have any
photos of any of the 80's people unless they came through LA
after 1990, so we had a Run DMC photo from like 1993 in the book
and it wasn't the typical photo in their Adidas and all that.
There was also a picture of Schooly D from like 1993 too. I
think he's very possibly the most underrated photographer in
Hip-Hop, or photography in general, plus his book "It's Not
About a Salary," is so ill.
- Yeah, it's pretty amazing how he happened to have shot photos
of almost every artist you covered.
Coleman - Yeah, and that's how it worked, I sent him a list
like, "here are the chapters, check off who you have."
There was only one I think I didn't use of Buckshot from Black
Moon because I wanted the whole group shot but I knew ahead of
time I probably wasn't going to run photos for every chapter
anyways because you have to pay for the photos out of your own
pocket, your publisher doesn't pay for that. It's a cool mix too
because its all about him (B+), there's live shots, posed shots
and shots just out on the street and I love the mix and think it
really brings the chapters alive.
- How did you hook up with Questlove who penned the albums
Coleman - I had to talked to Questlove at length (laughs) for
probably about 5 or 6 hours for the "Do You Want More"
chapter. As soon as I started talking to him it was obvious I
had a connection with because he's even a bigger music nerd than
I am and that's not easy. So I did the Roots chapter and I
started getting a list together of who I wanted to do the intro.
I wanted someone who was in the mix back in the 90's and I
didn't want to have a super old-timer, but he was just the
perfect person because he's such a fan of everything, especially
like De La Soul and Public Enemy so he can come across as a fan
but is obviously in the mix as an artist as well. Beyond that
he's a great thinker and a born writer and if he didn't happen
to be a great drummer and producer he would probably be the
greatest journalist America, so he was an obvious choice.
Getting him to do it on time was tough because he's so busy, but
it worked out great. It was funny because I tried to give him
chapters of the book early and he wouldn't take them. It was
this really bizarre scene at The Roots show in Boston I think
last August and I was almost done with the book. I went up to
him and was like "what's up Ahmir? Hey I've got some
chapters here I want to give you" and he was like "no,
I can't take them." (laughs) I was like "what the fuck
are you talking about?" and I though he was kidding. He
said "nah man, I have to read the whole book at once."
Then I was like "well, I want you to see…" and he
said "nah." Then his road manager was like "well
I'll take 'em" and Questlove said "No! No ones taking
them!" (laughs) I was just like "fuck!" But it
was dope because as soon as I sent him "Rakim Told Me"
he got it because of his Jazz background and stuff.
- Yeah, and with his own work he's known for putting together
detailed liner notes for most of the albums he puts out.
Coleman - Yeah, exactly. I'm just incredibly grateful he did it
and like B+'s photos his intro really brings life to the book.
It gets the point across quite nicely.
- You talked about having two editors for the book, what's
entailed in the editing of the book and do you try and do most
of it yourself?
Coleman - The editors are almost more like project managers than
line-by-line editors. They kind of look everything over and do a
pass and say "oh why don't you change this," or
"maybe you should take out this paragraph" and to be
honest they had a really light hand, both of them. Actually Adam
was the one the did a majority of the kind of "roll up your
sleeves" editing work and I don't know why because I'm not
really a genius writer or anything, but I think he had a lot of
respect for what I was trying to do because the way these
chapters flow, they aren't perfect but that's kind of the point
for them to be very natural. Then you send it to a copy editor
whose only job is to totally beat the hell out of it until the
grammar is really tight because my grammar is not that tight and
it needed that. It wasn't that bad of a process at all. My
problem was the book that I handed in was way too long, way too
long. There are 36 chapters in the book and I finished 50, so
you can already tell that I am already done with half of the
next book from jump street. I had to cut the shit out of a lot
of chapters, like the roots chapter was originally twice as long
but they let me do a lot of the chopping so that was really cool
because they didn't have to do that they respected me as the
author and a writer. I told them, "just tell me how many
words you need and I'll chop it down" and they let me do
that. It wasn't a fun process but it could have been a hundred
times worse. It's an interesting thing to have someone else edit
it because "Rakim Told me" was purely me and my poor
wife who were the only ones fucking with it and looking at the
text. You know you can only look at something so many times.
- Yeah, you need to have another set of eyes outside of your
Coleman - Yeah, and this time I had another 10 sets of eyes on
it. I mean there are probably tons of typos in "Rakim Told
Me" and I'm sure the grammar is very sketchy compared to
what it should be, but "Check the Technique" is
definitely better all the way around.
- Something else that jumped out as probably being next to
impossible to do is fact check a lot of the artists statements.
For example in the "Life Is Too Short" chapter he was
talking about a local rapper from back in like 1981 named Super
Rat or Motorcycle Mike and there was an editors note in there
that he actually got the name of the artist and the song title
reversed, it must have been difficult to find information about
an artist that almost no one has ever heard of?
Coleman - Well, thank god for discogs.com, gemm.com and EBay. I
was really impressed with um, well I've always said that the
kind of artists we're talking about in these books touch
everybody, it's not really just for Hip-Hop fans. One of the
copy editors on the book emailed me on Myspace and he was in
some kind of Rock band and he was like "ah man, I love
reading this, and it's so great." He corrected a lot of
shit too, like every once in a while I would spell Afrika
Bambaataa wrong, you know I wouldn't put the two A's at the end
and he caught that and I thought that was dope. They do their
research and I do as much as I could, but there was a lot of
weird shit that came up. Like one of the last changes that was
made was the actual address of Rza's house in Staten Island
because (Inspectah) Deck said it was like 143 and RZA said it
was 134 or something. That's how nerdy I got with this (laughs),
but hopefully that's a good thing. That stuff's kind of
important to me being a Hip-Hop nerd. Not that it's an important
thing in regards to the chapter, but I'm hoping that the fact
that I did try and check every fact I could check readily will
hopefully make it a better reference guide than a lot of books
out there because I think a lot of them aren't that tight and
when I read shit in some guide books that I won't name, I don't
trust it because I know it didn't come from an artist
themselves. Like I said in "Rakim Told Me," if it
doesn't have quotes around it, why the fuck should I trust that
writer? They're probably just taking some info they read
somewhere that someone else wrote about something they read and
are putting it in their own words.
- Yeah, it becomes more interpretation than fact.
Coleman - Yeah, like I remember when I talked to Ice-T and a lot
of guidebooks out there say that his parents both died in a car
crash or something, but his parents actually died a couple years
apart of different causes. When I talked to him I was like
"you know this info's out there, why not correct it?"
and he just said "Do you know how long it would take me to
correct every piece of false information out there?" So
that's another side to what I'm doing with these books is to
rectify theses factual errors. It's not like that has a lot to
do with his career or anything but if you're gonna do something
why not do it right? Don't just take info you read on fucking
Wikipedia and rely on it as fact.
- Was there anything you had to leave out because it couldn't be
factually proven but was kind of a cool fact?
Coleman - Not really. Well, apparently what you can't do in a
book is take a second hand account of somebody committing a
criminal act. (laughs) So someone who I won't name said,
"oh he was out of town because he tried to stick up this
cab driver and they got put in jail" or something. But if
they say it first person like "I did it, I did the robbery,
I got caught" then it's alright and there was actually two
or three of those that were in there that I had to take out.
They weren't important to the story but were fun little facts.
- Who was the most difficult person you had to track down for
Coleman - Wow, uh that is not an easy question.
- Because every one of them are impossible to nail down right?
Coleman - (laughs) You know! Believe me we're in the same game
man. Uh, Erick Sermon was real tough to get on the phone but
once I did it was amazing for me and I think he enjoyed it a lot
too. Who else? Rakim was actually really difficult, and took
weeks and weeks and weeks. You know the one thing I've learned
is that there is no point in ever leaving a message on a
Rapper's cell phone (laughs), because they don't fucking listen
to them, and this was way before texting became so prevalent.
I've sat with many of them and watched their cell phone just
light up and they won't even look at it if they are doing
something. That's one reason why I try to get them on the phone
because sometimes the cell phone does distract them and if
you've got 'em on the phone then you're one step ahead of the
- Did you try and contact Lauryn Hill for "The Score"
chapter, because that was kind of an obvious omission but I just
assumed she wasn't reachable?
Coleman - I did, oh yeah. When I called her publicist at
Columbia he said that he hadn't talked to her in like a year or
two and he actually kind of laughed. Of course I really wanted
to talk to her but at the same time I really hope to do
"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" just alone, but yeah
it would have been dope. Anyone who was a glaring omission in a
chapter, you can bet that I tried my damndest to get them. I
would have loved to have a "Chronic" chapter but good
luck trying to get Dr. Dre on the phone. I actually started a
"Chronic" chapter. I was gonna talk to everybody but
Dre. I tracked down Greg Royal who most people have forgotten
engineered and mastered "The Chronic" which was no
small feat and he's been out of the game for 6 or 7 years. At
one point I had to make a decision, "do I do a Fugees
chapter without Lauryn?" If I had only talked to one those
dudes than no, I wouldn't have included it. Another chapter that
kind of stands alone and I found strangely dope is the Chuck
D/Public Enemy chapter. Because realistically there should have
been more people in there, but there was something dope about
having just Chuck's voice alone. Maybe that's because he's my
favorite MC of all time, but I think people often forget about
the role that Chuck plays in the groups sound. It wasn't that I
was trying to diss Hank Shocklee or Eric Sadler but for some
reason that one always seemed like I didn't want to fuck with
it. That's what I like about all the chapters in the book, they
all have their own character and flow.
- In the Beastie Boys chapter there was so much information,
even down to a hand drawn floor plan of the studio they built to
record the album. Did you think ahead of time you might get that
kind of information out of them?
Coleman - No I didn't. There's definitely two side to those
dudes, there's the goofy fucking around side, the "I don't
want to be serious" side and the "hardcore music fan
of all genres" side. I didn't really know what kind of
responses I was going to get from them but they were real
focused. I had started off talking to Money Mark and Mario C so
I already had a lot of background stuff from them and I wanted
to have their perspective of it all. A lot of times I like to do
that to start with, you know talk a record label type person or
a producer so you have most of the factual stuff accomplished.
Then you can just verify it and dig deeper with the artists.
That's the thing about these chapters, I try to pick the ones
that I think seem to have the best story about them and with the
Beasties I could probably pick any album and there would be
great stories but with "Check Your Head," I knew the
least about that album so I thought it would be cool to explore
- Evil Dee of Black Moon has been another big supporter of the
book, were you in touch with him prior to the books or did he
kind of come on board during the research for their chapter?
Coleman - That's one of the best things that has come out of
"Check the Technique" is that I've become friends with
him. I was always a fan of course but I had never met him. He
came to my Boston Book event, then he DJ'd my New York Event and
he was actually at the Philly event just as a spectator. Him and
Mr. Walt came down from New York just to hang out. Getting to
know him has been amazing. I didn't know him at all and had
never been in contact with him, I had talked to Buckshot in the
past but I had contacted Evil Dee to talk about the Black Moon
chapter and he had already bought "Rakim Told Me." He
told me that he had bought extra copies of the book and was
giving it out to friends and I was just like "holy
shit." I can't really imagine a bigger honor being bestowed
up someone like me than that. Like Ahmir, he kind of understood
what the book was and what I was trying to do. He and Walt and a
lot of producers think about music the same way I do, they talk
about their own music but they also want to know about the Bomb
Squad and Q-Tip and even though they're good friends with him
they love to hear different stories about him. But yeah, Evil
Dee and Walt have both been really supportive, far beyond what I
could have ever dreamed of. It's almost like they are on my
payroll or some shit but they're really just doing it out of the
- That's dope, because you can't pay for that kind of promotion.
Coleman - Yeah, it's been incredible to connect with artists
like that. It's funny, in Philly for the book event I mentioned,
I was there at Cue Records which is a really dope shop, but I
was there in the afternoon and the gig wasn't until that night.
I had bought a whole bunch of shit an in comes Evil Dee, Walt,
their man Bizarro and Walt's kid. I was like "ah sweet, I
beat the Beatminerz to a spot!" It was cool and we were
just hanging out, they're just great guys. There's a camaraderie
amongst the artists from back then that doesn't exist as much
these days with a lot of major label artists. Back then in like
1991 or 1992 everybody was kind of down with everybody.
- There wasn't as big of a division between everyone because the
money wasn't rolling in yet.
Coleman - Yeah, it was competition, but it wasn't competition
where everyone was like "I want to take your shit and I
want to be richer than you," it was more like, "I want
to the do the iller track so your gonna be like 'aw fuck I gotta
beat that'." It was just kind of a one-upmanship that
really is necessary for any art form to move forward and I don't
believe it exists on the major label level today. I think the 50
Cent versus Kanye West thing is the ultimate proof of that,
because I haven't heard one mention of who's actually gonna have
the better record (laughs), and isn't that really the most
important thing? But its like well, not really to 50 Cent. It's
"who sells more" and "who can figure out a better
way to sell records" and that isn't what these artists in
"Check the Technique" are all about. None of them
would have minded selling records and getting rich, but that
wasn't what it was all about. I mean, the first thing Evil Dee
did when he read the book was call me and he was like, "aw
man, why is Main Source not in here?" and I just said,
"man I tried, Large Professor just wouldn't talk to
me" and he was like "ok man, I'm gonna make some
calls, we're gotta get this straightened out." I think
people who are a part of this book want to be like…
- They want to be amongst the other greats.
Coleman - Yeah, it's not just about "hey I'm in a
book," its kind of like "we need to get everyone in
this, everyone's a part of it." To be honest I don't think
that brotherhood exists any more, but maybe in a way its taking
these artists back to when they made the music and would just
hang out and D&D Studios or Calliope and I just don't think
that really happens anymore. Now, I'm not saying it applies to
the Indy scene because I believe it does exist at that level,
and that's important, and that's why it's a hundred times more
interesting than the major labels except for very few
circumstances. The majors are a joke right now. They're putting
out a bunch of garbage and they have no idea what's gonna sell.
They kind of just put something out, cross their fingers and are
generally across the board afraid to take chances.
- This time around with "Check the Technique" as you
mentioned earlier, you were able to put together some events to
promote the book. How have those been going?
Coleman - They've been beyond anything I could have ever
imagined and been and so much fun, it's been kind of gratifying.
I don't really like book signings because first of all, the book
isn't about me and getting my autograph is like "yeah,
whatever." Maybe in like ten years if I become some famous
author it would be cool, but it's really just about the artists
and their stories. So me just sitting at some table with
classical music playing in the background at a Barnes and Noble
is pretty weak, that's why I like to do these events at clubs
with artists who were in the book or DJ's who are huge fans and
the book is kind of their thing. I did one in Boston and Evil
Dee and Walt came up, I did one in New York with Evil Dee at his
main spot this club called "Rewind" and the Philly
event was last weekend. Q-Tip DJ'd and Cee Knowledge (Doodlebug)
from Digable Planets was the MC and Evil Dee, Walt and Schooly D
showed up to just hang out. The whole thing about the events is
that they aren't about selling the book or signing autographs,
it more about celebrating the music and interacting with people
and having discussions about what they liked in the book.
- Earlier you said you already have a head start on the next
book with what was left over from "Check the
Technique," so how far along with the next book are you and
is there a specific era that you're covering with it?
Coleman - Same era, because there's so many more albums to cover
from this same era. I'm really not interested in coving anything
past like 1996 because I think there really needs to be time in
between. I might go up to like 2000, but it would be tough.
- Yeah, you kind of have to let the albums sit and let their
influence take its course before you can reflect on it.
Coleman - Exactly. I really think that's necessary. People ask
me "who would you write about in modern day" and it's
tough for one because the album is dying at the major label
- Yep, everything is single focused and ring-tone driven.
Coleman - Yeah, so I'll do my "Greatest Ring Tones of
2007" chapter…not. But yeah, there's so many more to
cover ranging from Kurtis Blow who really had the first real
Hip-Hop album, up through maybe "Reasonable Doubt" by
Jay-Z. But I've got some great stuff done already like
"Amerikkka's Most Wanted" with Ice Cube and Sir Jinx
and I'm really excited about getting that one out there because
I talked to him for like 90 minutes and there's some crazy stuff
in that one.
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