I may have mentioned before that I was a college DJ during the time when hip-hop music was coming of age. Sally was one of my favorite songs of the era from the legendary hip-hop group Stetsasonic. And after years of my DJ years in college (but I’m still a DJ… almost at least) I had the opportunity to run a technical committee at Georgia Tech, and one of the committee members was Glenn Bolton, aka Dad-O… one of the founders of Stetsasonic Corporation.
It was great to hear Daddy-O talk about technology, his experiences in business and the impact of new technology on the creation process. But at the time he hadn’t picked up the microphone in a while. But a few years ago I started watching videos of Daddy-O singing again. Then I was on LinkedIn one morning and saw that he posted a quick clip of a sneak peek of Daddy-O and the entire Stetsasonic crew teasing a new song. The fact that they haven’t made an album/DVD in about 30 years but still looks great really stopped me in my tracks. And the fact that I first saw this on LinkedIn – not YouTube – really stood out to me… and that’s after I got so excited to see them all back together and they look great after all these years!
It was perfect timing as I was following through with DMs with Daddy-O and I just made an appointment For a live chat on LinkedIn. Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation where we talk about the band’s early days, why they’re back in the studio together after all these years, and how he feels better now than he did in his heyday. This was an extended conversation that you can here by clicking on the built-in SoundCloud player.
LinkedIn for hip hop?
Brent Leary: I thought it was really cool to peek at LinkedIn.
Dad-O: I posted it on Instagram as well. What happened to me on LinkedIn is that I always used LinkedIn for professional purposes only. I got a little tech company on the side and we trained doctors and stuff and technology and I was just doing it. But a lot of people who love what we do are sitting there on LinkedIn and I shouldn’t feel bad about it. I shouldn’t feel bad about having my job resume on LinkedIn. And my music is still me. And therefore …
The best I can be
Brent Leary: I heard you say you’re a better rapper now than you ever were.
Abi-O: I just know I am. In 2016, I started making those records again, you know, making records again. And then when I did that, as I tell everyone, the two people I thought of were Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. And I just thought if Miles was here, would he tell anyone, man, just go, listen to Bitches Brew. You’ll hear what I’m up to. Or will he do something new? The proof is that the last product Miles Davis got to work with was Easy Moe B; A hip-hop guy who produced Tupac, Biggie, all of it. So, he was really pushing the envelope forward and I feel like Jimmy would have been the same way if he had lived, he would have done something. He won’t say, Hey, go listen to Purple Haze. You know, he’s going to do something new.
So I thought about it long and hard between 2015 and 2016 and said, What do I do? No, not what I do? I think that is important. Not what I do to keep the lights on, but what do I do with my talent? And I thought about it. I said, man, I don’t rap anymore. right? If I just stopped rapping, all they would know me about was the old stuff. And that was before some of the big people now became big. It would evolve and I’d be stuck in a little bubble like, I don’t know, ’86 I like ’91. And that’s not bad. Nothing bad in that. It’s good to have classics. It’s great to be an artist and to know that there is at least one classic song that people love. This feels great, great, great. But as a rapper, I’d be pushed to the back of the bus, you know, to be like the old man and the aging bus. And I don’t want to be either. I just don’t want to be that. I know I can’t do what Young Thug does. I know I can’t do what Rick Ross does, younger guys would do what they do, but I thought there had to be some line for me. There has to be some openness for me. So I took my time and just studied it and tried and got it wrong. I discovered it. And I know there’s a lane to classic hip-hop.
Bringing the group back together for the first time in 30 years
Abi-O: When I was ready, I introduced it to Stetsasonic and I was just like, Look, man, this is a path we can take, you know? And I’m glad I’m really proud of the guys. Pick up the cloak. They were like, ‘Okay, we’ll see where you’re going with her. Show us what you want to do.’ I showed them. And what they’ve been writing now is crazy, man. I heard the light kicked me something that day. He wants to do an interpretation of Gamble and Huff – OJays in the Music. It was crazy. Such a great thing.
Brent Leary: Let’s say you’re talking to an old school student who wants to go back to her. What is the hardest part? Is it a return to the production aspects of assembling the song? Is it going through what you might need, to build an audience and use these social tools to promote the brand?
Dad-O: The first step I really feel is acceptance because what I found with my colleagues is unfortunately, but the truth is, they don’t really accept the art form today. There is some health in that, right? One of my close friends always says that they shouldn’t even call what they’re doing now, hip-hop, they should call it something else.
Brent Leary: This is a bit like the tradition “Come down from my garden, it’s not as good as I did when I put it in yes”. There is some validity. There seemed to be a certain sound that took hold of the hip, right? There is not much creativity today.
Dad-O: I think you could say that there is not a great deal of creativity. You can say that. I mean, it’s proven because of the laptop’s production. prove it. Because it evolved. Whether or not we want to believe Young Thug and everyone else who comes with this set is evolution. It is evolution. I have evolved into it. Some people might say it all back. That’s another argument, isn’t it? But it has evolved.
I think the first step is acceptance. And what I mean by that is accepting that they are who they are and can do what they do. right. Then you know who you are. This is the hard part. Where does Daddy-O know relevant to the conversation? Where is the Stetsasonic located?
Define success today
Brent Leary: What does success look like to you now, compared to back in the day when you were so successful at playing your own music and producing others, but how do you measure success now compared to back in today?
Dad-O: One of the things I’ll say, this is kind of weird. It’s just a terrible turn of events. I don’t call myself old school because I came after Grandmaster Flash and they, who I was with that day as well. Most old school cats are making onstage now more than ever. So, a strange turn of events. It’s almost as if we’re making more on stage now than we did in our heyday because of this high demand for classic hip-hop, nostalgia and all that.
I’ve been trying to get my colleagues to make records, but now things are opening up again, before COVID and now after COVID a lot of them are making more money now than they made in the past. Maybe it’s not about sales especially since there’s still revenue, but they’re out on the road and making a lot of money. So, success kind of looks a little different for everyone because for them, success is just having a good run and being out in a few days, some guys just going out on the weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Friday, Saturday, Sunday, making what Between four and ten thousand dollars a night that nothing shakes it up. this is sweet. Most earn between $7,500 and $14,000 per night.
Success for me now is exactly what happened to you this morning. I don’t care if there were two, more than two, but I don’t care if there were two either when they got up or saw it late last night when I posted it, they looked at it and said oh man, this is my man. This is my leg. And these are the guys who haven’t set a record in over 30 years.
Today’s Artist Focus
Brent Leary: Do you think that due to the ease of production, rather than focusing their efforts on the music industry, they almost focus on the branding and promotion industry?
Dad-O: That’s absolutely true. What you’re talking about is what you described as making a masterpiece, right? So, you know, you look at Dr. Dre’s Chronic, or you look at Public Enemy, it takes a nation of millions to hold us back, or you look at Stetsasonic In Full Gear. This was all a masterpiece, right? So it’s all trial and error, figuring out the sounds in the features, even if you get features how you fit into those features; We record on a two-inch tape. So that’s something else entirely, isn’t it? Recording on two inch tape versus this digital recording that we do now at DAW is a completely different thing. Even nearly extinct, it makes people focus more on the brand.
Best year in hip hop
Brent Leary: So I have to ask, why do you think 1988 was the best year in hip-hop?
Dad-O: I’m just thinking vocally, it’s all capped. I think 1986 was great. This is where we saw an introduction to Salt-N-Pepa and a few others. Then 1987 was almost the year, Eric B and Rakim. But by 88, we’ve all come to the conclusion of figuring out how logs work. If you think about it, Public Enemy had their debut album and Yo Bum Rush the Show, and I’m going to use it too. Stetsasonic had his debut album On Fire, which are great records. And for some purists, these are the best records in the world. They still take those records over anything else we’ve made, but by ’88 we understood more things about the studio. We were on the road, at least for our beta run, and Public Enemy was more than just a test run because LL cool J brought us out.
So we went on a Def Jam tour. We have just learned and gained a foothold in the field of music; What we would have been like as recording artists. So by the time we all came, most of us had hit those sophomore records. Those records were perfect because we knew phonetically where they were. And I don’t know if any year could compete with the 1988 Sonic because, let’s face it, Puffy with Bad Boy makes good records. But most of the time it’s loud, isn’t it? So it might not be as good as it is loud because by then they figured out how to turn up the volume in the main studio. But just as good as these Biggie recordings sound, if you put them against the Public Enemy track, it won’t do it justice to the sound. Public enemy path still eats it because we got our groove back then.
This is the other part of by 88; When something is—and software engineers can figure it out—when something is planned and experimental, that’s what makes us so smitten.
This is part of a series of one-on-one interviews with thought leaders. The text has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click the embedded player above, or sign up via iTunes or via Stitcher.