“I’m from New York, but I grew up in Tampa Bay, Florida. The difference is New York moved with the times. As a city, it embraced disco more than the south did. By the time hip-hop started becoming popular, they abandoned that old funk sound. Meanwhile in Tampa, the top records every year on the radio were always Parliament Funkadelic. They loved other funk bands too, but especially P-Funk. New York pretty much went all the way up to ‘Flash Light’ and that was it. Stuff like ‘Aqua Boogie’ and ‘(Not Just) Knee Deep’ and even ‘Atomic Dog’ were not as huge in New York as [Chic’s] ‘Good Times.’ P-Funk was everything to us. All it took for me was someone telling me, ‘Did you know ‘Flash Light’ and ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ were made by the same group?’
By 1980, I started really getting into P-Funk. I was 16. At the same time, I had already lived in New York when hip-hop was starting. I left NYC in ’78, so I was in that younger crowd of hip-hop fans. I was there for the DJ’s in the park at the jams, so when I moved to Florida we kept that hip-hop connection going. I had my own crew in Tampa Bay…an MC from Brooklyn, and another cat from New York. We would send my cousins the tapes of what we were doing and they would send us tapes back like, ‘You missed Fantastic 5 MC’s vs. Grandmaster Flash and Busy B was hosting!’ I had one foot in hip-hop being a DJ and the other foot in P-Funk. I was a self-taught musician on piano, but a lot of older cats and blues dudes would give a me a tip here and there.
At around 23, I started to do less MCing and more playing. I learned from copying records for my bands. Playing instruments was something you didn’t see in hip-hop. And on top of that, I was a huge Prince fan. I loved that he did it all in the studio by himself. When we first started Digital Underground, we were trying to be like what Public Enemy would later become.
But P.E. was way better than us [laughs]. Me and my partner Kenny K were Stokely Carmichael fanatics. I used to be that cat that walked around in berets. We just wanted to do something heavy. The way we were thinking was, ‘We are going to have to bomb a courthouse one day…[laughs]’ So in hindsight, I’m glad music saved me from being that hardcore revolutionary because Funkadelic’s message was always, ‘Free your mind and your ass will follow.’ I adapted that philosophy for Digital Underground from (P-Funk band leader) George [Clinton].
Kenny and I had gone through two or three different group names and had been on Battle of the Jams together on the radio station…we had history. Jimmy (Chopmaster J) on the other hand was somebody I just met when I moved to Oakland right before Digital Underground started. He was the guy with a lot of connects. I was a salesman at a music store and in 1987 I recorded a couple of demos, just shit I wanted to do to send to my homies. I left the masters in Jimmy’s 4-track cassette. He sent those tracks behind my back to his high school buddy Darryl who was in LA working at Mocola Records.
He just wanted to see what the songs would do. Their response was, ‘This is great…this is the new sound that’s on the radio…we can do something with this…we want to bring you to LA to record.’ That’s how Jimmy became a member of the group. And that was the beginning of how Digital Underground’s first single ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon.’ Funny thing is when they told me about the trip to LA I quit my job. I even made a big announcement to my family like, ‘Yeah…I have record coming out!’ But it didn’t go down. I had to go beg for my job back [laughs]. There were some other label deals that fell through.
So by the time I met Antron Gregory, who was NWA’s road manager and went on to become 2Pac’s manager, I was no longer making any big announcements to my family that I had a record coming out. I was looking like an idiot. So Antron was the one who really made it happen for us; we ended up with [a deal with TNT/Macola Records]. As for the ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon’ album cover, like most of our albums I did the artwork. P-Funk might have gave me the courage to use drawings instead of photos, but the style of my drawings came much more from humorist stuff like Mad Magazine and also the Pink Panther cartoon. P-Funk’s art was much more serious. At the time of ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon’ I didn’t really have a pride thing yet going with music. It was just a fun thing to do. My whole thinking was, ‘This is bugged out…I know P-Funk fans are going to like this!’”