King T Says Dr. Dre & Xzibit Motivated Him To Rap Again, Recalls Years At Aftermath
Exclusive: Legend King T opens up about some of his personal and professional challenges. He reveals that Ice-T gave him his first Caddy, his first Benz and his first Hollywood pad in the '80s.
On his records, King T has been a fun-loving, beer-drinking Compton, California low-rider for over 25 years. In his personal life, the man born Roger McBride is much more complex. Recently speaking with HipHopDX, the longtime mentor to Xzibit and Tha Alkaholiks, age-old friends with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and musical partner to Friday co-writer DJ Pooh opened up about what we don't easily know. King T explained how the loss of his daughter and marital challenges forced him away from the microphone, into depression. One of the first major label acts of the West Coast revealed that it was his unreleased Aftermath album with Dre that stirred him for much of the last decade. Few artists are ever this candid, and it's hardly bar room talk.
While some of the subjects are gravely serious, King T still laughs and chuckles as he looks at his life and career. And he can. He maintains the relationships that mattered to him in the beginning, he still enjoys rocking in front of crowds and throwing down the pen after finishing a verse, and he has plans to bookend his career with greatness—even if he's moved on from beer.
HipHopDX: Not too long ago, you came out with Tha Triflin’ Mixtape. It had been over five years since you’d done a mixtape or an album. What led you to put it out, with the time apart from music?
King T: Really, when I got around Dr. Dre. Xzibit took me up to Dre’s house. This was after a long [bout] of depression. I lost my daughter, like three years ago, in a car accident. So I was kinda down. Me and my wife had separated for a minute. I was just goin’ through some things and wasn’t really feelin’ like doin’ no music or anything like it; it was just a bad time for me.
Xzibit had called me up and asked me to start hangin’ around, ‘cause he was workin’ on the Napalm album. And he was writin’ for [Dr. Dre’s] Detox. So I was just hangin’ with him for a month or so. We went out and messed with Dre to do some things on Detox. And just fuckin’ with Dre and dealin’ with X and watchin’ what was goin’ on, I just wanted to get back into it. It gave me that umph—that spirit I needed to just pick up the pen and start writin’ and lovin’ the music, lovin’ Hip Hop again. That’s all it was.
DX: We’re glad to have you back. It’s always odd to see pioneers from the ‘80s going the free music/mixtape route. I’m glad that it felt therapeutic for you to come back. Do you see more traditional, retail albums in your future?
King T: I’m definitely working on one now. Everybody had gotten kinda angry with me, with Tha Triflin’ [mixtape], ‘cause they said it sounded like an album. Because it was all original music and they felt I wasted a lot of resources. But I’m back. I’m here. I can write another album like it ain’t nothin’, I just need the beats and that same enthusiasm I had with [the mixtape].
King T Discusses Ice-T's Generosity & Support
DX: One of my favorite records of yours is “Str8 Gone.” On that record, you say you were “put onto the game” by Ice-T. I don’t think a lot of people often realize that since you guys didn’t work a ton together. Ice had shared some of that with me back in 2010, but can you explain Ice’s role in your career?
King T: I came in the game young. The people from Compton that helped put me in the game—Scotty D and DJ Pooh, that was just cuttin’ demos and independent joints with Techno Hop [Records] and DJ Unknown. That’s how [I got in]. Ice-T had also done stuff with Techno Hop—“Dogg’n The Wax (“Ya Don’t Quit Part II)” b/w “6 In The Mornin’.” I met Ice, and Ice was just like a big brother to me, my uncle. He just took control of everything. I signed with his management team, Rhyme Syndicate. I was down with Rhyme Syndicate—come on, man! He bought me my first Cadillac. [Laughs] And, they got me my first [Mercedes] Benz!
DX: Is that the Caddy from the cover of Act A Fool?
King T: Naw, naw, naw. It was another one. The one that was used in the “Act A Fool” video, yes. He bought that for me after the video. That was my man. We’re still close to this day. Ice looked out as much as he could for me, but he was also doin’ his thing. He got me my first apartment, by myself. I was livin’ in the same building. When Ice was livin’ in Hollywood, he put me in the same building he was in. That was my big bro, right there. He took care of me; he got me the first deal with Capitol Records, him and George Hinojosa. Ever since then, 1988, I was one of the first West Coasts artists, with Ice, to have a major deal at that time.
DX: And at Capitol, it was kinda really just you and MC Hammer.
King T: Yeah. Well, they had the Boogie Boys too, who did “Fly Girl.” After that, the Beastie Boys came over [too]. It was weird, ‘cause they didn’t know what to do with the type of Rap I was doin’; they didn’t know what to do with Rap, period. We were in the R&B Department; they didn’t have a Rap department—come on, this was ’88. [Laughs] It was brand new. Everybody that was handlin’ my records, excuse me, but they were White boys. They didn’t know about the shit. It was brand new.
King T Discusses Compton Hip Hop's Unity In The 1980s
DX: Going back to what you said about Techno Hop for a sec, it’s interesting. You and Dr. Dre have maintained a relationship all these years, Unknown DJ. Compton’s a big place, but it’s a small place. You and DJ Quik are really the only guys who came up without having big crews around you—N.W.A., Compton’s Most Wanted, etc. You guys all seem to get along, but you didn’t make a ton of music together. What was that comradery like in the early days, that friendliness but also that competition?
King T: No matter what, Hip Hop is competitive. Me and Compton’s Most Wanted was always tight; we were right across the street from each other. Even though our hoods were enemies, we were able to go outside of Compton and do work together. [DJ] Quik, when he came out, he was from the other side too. We knew of each other, and we were cool because we both loved what we was doin’. It was, “Fuck that gang shit, fuck that hood shit,” if we ever were to see each other out; we were always cool with each other. Eventually, we all got together and worked on something. It was always love. And with N.W.A.—a lot of people don’t know, when I came in the game, we were all one big family. Even though we never made music together, we all used the same equipment. Me and Pooh used to have to go pick up Dr. Dre’s [E-mu] SP-1200, borrow it, bring it back, take it to [Eazy E’s] mom’s house. We was all on the road together, tearin’ up the hotels, all that. We was one big family. We never made music together, because like you said, it was still a competition of who could do the best shit.
DX: Plus, collaborations then aren’t what they are now.
King T: Right. When me and Pooh first started, we wasn’t tryin’ to do [Gangsta Rap]. Even though Eazy and N.W.A. and Dre brought that gangsta element to the game, we was on some other shit. We was on some boom-bap-type shit to where we wanted to be street, but have that Hip Hop feel—kinda an East Coast vibe, but we wanted to put our West Coast on it. I used to listen to Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, EPMD—wasn’t no West Coast artists that really got me, until Too Short. [Laughs] We were on that. Plus, Pooh and [Bobcat] was producin’ LL Cool J’s [Bigger And Deffer] album at that time.
DX: The L.A. Posse.
King T: Yeah. We were on the East Coast tip. A lot of people don’t know, when I signed with Capitol, we went to New York. We recorded “Act A Fool” and “Bass” and all that in New York, at Chung King [Studios]. [Laughs]
DX: I have the records on the wall, but never realized that. You and DJ Pooh always had an amazing rapport on record, like DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince or Biz Markie and Cool V. Would you listen and look back, would you have ever guessed that he would go on to become to such a successful screenwriter?
King T: Yes. Of course. Pooh was a natural comedian. It was always fun in the studio. It’s like a comedy act. That’s where all that came from: Pooh bein’ funny, that’s he produced. It’s crazy. We knew it though. We either thought he’d eventually be a stand-up comic or we knew he’d be an actor or doin’ movies.
DX: We were discussing the Caddy from "Act A Fool" that Ice-T gave you. From all of your first four album covers, you’ve had amazing cars. I always loved the ’61 bubbletop orange Chevy on Tha Triflin’ Album. Tell me about your love of cars, and if you still have any of those classics?
King T: [Laughing] I’m a big car-hawk. If I didn’t love music like I did and didn’t have the opportunity like I’ve had, I’d be building cars or workin’ on cars. That’s my second love, workin’ on cars, customizin’ ‘em, drivin’ ‘em—I love driving. I’m gettin’ ready to leave for [Las] Vegas tonight. [Chuckles] Music and cars, that’s it for me. It was a big thing for me to have some type of nice car on every [album] cover I did. I think I’ve done it, except for the Dr. Dre [produced album, Thy Kingdom Come]. We did create a cover for Thy Kingdom Come album, but I never got the pictures.
DX: Did it have a car?
King T: Naw. It was me sittin’ on a throne or somethin’. [Chuckles]
DX: Did you did a lot of work on those cars?
King T: Nah, they were already built. Somebody else had put ‘em together. They were already done.
King T Discusses Aftermath, Dr. Dre & Thy Kingdom Come
DX: You mention Thy Kingdom Come. I know that was an interesting time at Aftermath. As a teen, I personally was just thrilled that you and RBX were there on that first Dr. Dre Presents… The Aftermath album. How do you look back at that time? The promo EP vinyl mixer of your album was pressed up, man…
King T: Well…I mean, I was there before even the name Aftermath [Entertainment] came; it was gonna be Black Market [Records] or somethin’ like that. [Laughs] What I’ll say about that is: I let my ego and my pride get in the way. Yeah, I sat up and listened to mothafuckas talk about how you’ll get shelved fuckin’ with Dre. I was a lil’ impatient. Like you said, I had an album done. I thought it was the best album I had ever made. The only thing was, no, it was good. He said it wasn’t done. He felt it wasn’t done. I should have sat back and let him work, “Aiight, let’s get it done.” Instead, I thought it was finished, as my best work. That ego shit: “Aw, Dre try’na sit on my shit.” [I believed] people sayin’, “Aw, I heard Dre ain’t never gonna put your record out”—that bitch shit. [Laughs] And more than anything, I’m the type of dude…I don’t like to create enemies. These mothafuckas have been my friends for the longest, since before I started out. [I told him], “Nigga, we not gonna become enemies over this bullshit. Let me go. Let me roll with my album.” He was like, “Tila, I don’t want you to go. But if you want to go, I’ll let you roll.” And I did. And it was a mistake. I should’ve sat my ass down and sat behind that mothafuckin’ board with him and let him do what he do. ‘Cause at the moment…come on, [as] soon as I left, he came with 2001. Wow. [Laughs] I felt like an asshole. It was a big mistake.
DX: For the fans, we got to hear the album. You put it out. Dre was never upset years later that you released that album yourself, essentially bootlegging it?
King T: Naw. I don’t know if he even knew that. Of course it was a bootleg. The thing was, don’t nobody wanna touch it. After leaving Aftermath, I signed with Ruthless [Records]; Tomica [Woods-Wright] signed me. She thought we were gonna get the masters. [Laughs] It didn’t happen. It was just a messed up time. It kinda [contributed] to when I got real depressed, and then losin’ my daughter. It was just a bad time.
DX: I respect that, completely. I can only imagine. You were on 2001 though. So I have to ask, what was Aftermath like after Death Row? You’d been signed to Capitol, MCA, Ruthless. What’s it like with Chris “Glove” Taylor, Mel-Man, Bud’dha, RBX, all these West Coast musicians sittin’ in the lab together?
King T: It was fuckin’ amazin’. Being on Aftermath, the vibe…when you’re signed to that label, how business is conducted and how they take care of their artists, you’ll never hear me complain like I wasn’t treated swell over there. Really, they still do shit for me. Just being there. When I left, I went to Ruthless. I got depressed because it wasn’t the same vibe. My manager at the time, Shari Emory, she had a label called Blast Entertainment. The deal was through her. She had me and Baby S, that was signed to Ruthless. She felt for me; I just wasn’t with it. Have you seen what happens when artists leave Aftermath? It’s like they disappear! [Laughs] They can’t get that vibe that they had sittin’ behind Dre. It’s kinda weird, man. It was a beautiful vibe over there, and the music comin’ out of those speakers…the man knows what he’s doing. And the people that he had over there, [Chris “Glove” Taylor], Stu-B-Doo, Bud’dha, Mel-Man, them mothafuckas was bangin’ shit out.
DX: You had Kool G. Rap on the album too. Ant Banks, Too Short on “Big Boyz.” You had your guys.
King T: Yeah. It’s ‘cause everybody wanted to get at Dre. Tell anybody he wanted to do somethin’—“Okay.” [Laughs] “Aiight! Dre gon’ come?”
DX: You and J-Ro are talking about touring this year. Tell me about that.
King T: J-Ro got at me. I’ve been down since the beginning, so I always take his calls. He just released a mixtape. I just released a mixtape. He was like, “Come on, let’s do a tour.” I figured that’s it a good idea; let’s do it. I figure we might not get paid a lot—or make any money some shows, but let’s have some fun. It’s called the 818 Antics Tour. We’re hittin’ a few spots.
DX: You said you were listening to East Coast guys. It’s cool to me that guys like Masta Ace and J-Zone, real East Coast guys, were listening to you. Tell me about to love you’ve received, especially in this last 10 years without the album…
King T: Man, it’s incredible. Just from the cats I listened to. J-Ro had told me that he’d talked to [Diddy], and Puffy had told him somethin’ about [The Notorious B.I.G. used to listen to me all the time, and he kinda [interpolated] my style. I was like, “Get the fuck outta here!” I’m like, “Yo, I used to listen to him; I’m kinda adapting his shit too.” I love them mothafuckas. You mentioned Masta Ace; that’s my man right there. J-Zone too. These are the people that reached out to me while I was down. I just appreciate them reaching out and wantin’ to hear a brother.
I do lil’ things. Kurupt called me and asked me if I wanted to do this group thing, First Generation, with me, him, Jayo Felony, Compton’s Most Wanted, Gangsta from The Comrades. That re-introduced me to it. That led me to go into the studio with Xzibit. I kinda really, helped create some of Napalm. I brought a lot of beats to the table and things like that. It was cool. I appreciate all the love. When I started out, I was a Juice Crew All-Star fanatic. [Laughs]
DX: The first person you worked with outside of your crew was Marley Marl on the remix…
King T: It was a dream come true. That was the happiest moment. Working with Marley [Marl] on the [“Played Like A Piano”] remix was a dream come true then. I gotta say, the best moment in my life so far that brought me back from the dead with this Hip Hop shit was when all of us went in the studio with Xzibit and did the “Louis XIII.” It was classic.
DX: You are King Tipsy, and you had a strong St. Ides association back in the day. What’s the beer of choice these days?
King T: I don’t even drink beer no more. [Chuckles] Corona Light, probably.
King T: Yeah man. We on that [Remy Martin] Louis XII, some mothafuckin’ Hennessy. We been growin’ up around here, man. Remy Martin VSOP. Dark. Liquor! [Laughs] And a lot of loud weed! [Chuckles]
DX: So you're definitely going to do another studio album?
King T: Like I said in the beginning, I’m working on my last album. I don’t want to be 45, tryin’ to compete with these young cats that’s blowin’ up and doin’ they thing right now. I’m not tryin’ to look stupid like that. So look, I’ma do one more album and I’m finna be like Tupac in the mothafuckin’ booth—the dopest shit I ever wrote. With a lot of help. Don’t get it twisted, I had some writing help on Tha Triflin’ Mixtape, and I can shoot you some names. I want to do the First Generation project with Chill and Kurupt. I want to get more into production now. I started my own production squad; I got a few young cats that’s producing. I’ma keep on with it. I’ma take the new generation, the young cats, and take ‘em in the right direction and get ‘em paid.
DX: What is the proudest verse of your career?
King T: Ha ha ha. My proudest verse... It’s on Tha Triflin' Mixtape, and it's the song about my daughter. “My Angel,” its' called. I feel like I kicked it perfectly. I wrote it. It’s me. I threw the pen down like “fuck Rap.” “I just killed shit! I just killed shit! Son!”