Mr. Complex - Visit The Exquisite
by Dove
~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~

Email Dove

In the mid-eighties when Hip Hop was being dubbed a passing fad by the masses, high school was a time of grades, girls and gripping mics for Mr. Complex. He was enjoying the fun with friends Prince Po and Pharoahe Monche, but Complex didn’t necessarily see his own destiny in the game just yet. After getting his first single pressed in 1995, he began speculating the possibilities – and his consummate 1997 hit "Visualize", the b-side of "Why Don’t Cha", gave him the focus and foresight he would need to achieve longevity. He went on to attain a degree in film from the New York Film Academy, and began working on expanding his repertoire in video and movie direction. By 1999 Complex had released a series of 12" singles, and was working with a solid team of artists on various projects - yet the negativity of the music industry was pushing him away from committing to any long-term group activities. Call him stubborn, call him frugal, call him wise – any way you label him, the bottom line is that Complex is a man of his own means.

He recants his teenage experiences with fond memories of his Queens crew, Organized Konfusion, although it is apparent that success and friendship don’t always go hand in hand. "I met Prince first in high school, Pharoahe was there too, but me and Prince were tighter. I had introduced him to a guy on my block that was starting out with record labels and equipment and studios and whatever, and I used to rhyme and I was doing it for fun. When they started getting serious, working with some other cats that I didn’t think were worthy, I brought Prince through and they eventually clicked together, then we brought Pharoahe through and they made their first record under a group called STP. They pressed up maybe two thousand or so, but they eventually got signed to a few other labels before they changed their name.

There were a lot of people expecting Organized to blow up and put everyone on. They didn’t blow like they expected, then they got OC on a song and he got fame, and then [MC] Serch picked him up when Serch was dealing with Nas. I was just watching the business go, and they were getting a lot of props on lyrics, but money-wise they wasn’t doin it to put everyone else on. I just decided to try to do it myself and not wait for them – to try and take the little help they could give me, but it wasn’t that much, or it wasn’t what they could have done to put me in a better position –but things happen for a reason. I just took the Unsigned Hype I got in ’95 and pressed up the record myself – and that’s what started me."

Queens was a birthing place to many of the greatest emcees of our day. Mr. Complex watched and waited as everyone seemed to be passing him by, only to realize that having a record deal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. "I remember Pharoahe always got his hair cut from Fredro of Onyx, and we used to go up to the barber shop and talk about ‘yeah we got to get together and make the Queens coalition’ or whatever, and I just watched a lot of the people – how they start and how they blow in different directions. Q-Tip, I remember being on his steps right after ‘Bonita Applebaum’ and ‘Can I Kick It’, and I used to think he was large. Then when I met him and he was talking about where he was really at, I was like ‘wow’. He was like ‘I don’t even have no equipment, I’m still doin pause beats with the pause button."

Complex explains that reppin’ for Queens Hip Hop was a challenge at times. "When I was in high school it’s when the Shan and KRS-One thing was going on. I went to school in Manhattan, and Queens was always the underdog burrow. Queens was always the one that had to argue and fight. I still feel that some of the best emcees are outta Queens, there was always a good, decent quality – and everywhere else there was only one or two people that was from that burrow - but we had a number. The way Queens is really built, you’re not gonna have that many urban areas. When Manhattan was first built, they was like ‘we’re gonna work in Manhattan, live in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and Queens is gonna be a lot of the graveyards and farmland’, but when they figured out they couldn’t farm there they started building houses. If you look at maps you’ll see Queens is mostly graveyards, so there’s not as many people from Queens. The train system is not as intricate in Queens – you get to one spot and then you’re taking buses. If you lived out in south side, you had over an hour to get to Manhattan, so that’s why there wasn’t too many people in clubs when they was like ‘who’s in the house?’ when it was so easy for Brooklyn to get to Manhattan. We always had that underdog stature."

Complex and his Brooklyn-bred companion DJ Spinna hooked up with Raw Shack Records in 1997 when his manager at the time set him with the indie label. "I pressed my first record up, [Raw Shack] had a cat, J-Live, and I brought J-Live through to The Source and he got Unsigned Hype, and I watched him put out his record while I put out mine – and he knew the business more so he was sellin more. So the second time around I came to Raw Shack for help, but he was kinda shady. I saw how Serch had his production deal with OC and Nas in it, and I didn’t want to be down with the same type of situation so I bounced. J-Live stayed, but he got signed through some other label, and I just watched the same thing goin down with this guy at Raw Shack tryin to act like he owned everything."

Even after a reported 20,000 units of the "Visualize" single had moved, Complex was told that there was no money for him - only solidifying his decisions to stay solo. However, in 1999 he teamed up with Shabaam Shadeeq, Apani B. Fly and Spinna to create the Polyrhythmaddicts – a project that Complex considers a one-shot deal. "It was a successful piece of work – it wasn’t like an official group. It was just, I did a song and it led to a single that [needed] a B Side. I wasn’t trying to do a group. There won’t be another Polyrhythmaddicts – I was trying to, but the way things are going, the way things are, it’s not gonna happen."

Seeing his own friendships and relationships strained and mended over the years made Complex think about the supposed importance of all the ‘beef’ that has built up in New York over the years. "Now that Biggie really did it for Brooklyn and he’s gone, and Jay-Z feels he needs to take over for king of New York, I don’t know the real reason he picked upon Nas and Mobb Deep and set it on Queens again – but I still feel Nas fell off some. It doesn’t matter to me when I think about it now. I have [lived in] Brooklyn for about two years now – I don’t represent Brooklyn, I still love Queens – but when you think about it, it’s all foolish man. I’ve been around the world – they don’t care about some dirt – I don’t own any houses over here – it’s ignorant all over the place. I’d rather live in Queens than where I’m at now just to have the yard and parking – the little things. I don’t really know where I wanna live when I finally have my dream house, but if I have to represent for the Queens cats and show who’s doing it lyrically then [I will]."

In his travels, Complex has discovered varying degrees of reception to his music, and to Hip Hop in general. "I’ve been to Japan one time, Tokyo and Osaka. Spinna has been to Japan plenty of times and I’ve heard his stories, but my impression was different from his. They were really reserved – I heard that they loved Hip Hop and Black culture there, that they have more records than anybody, all kinds of paraphernalia from Soul Train tapes to all the movies – they have everything. They see magazines with me in it, so I figured that they would know who I was – and people did know but I thought that the language barrier was a little better. I always heard stories that in Japan they are real studious, but it seemed like about twenty-five percent spoke English there. At the shows when I was talking they didn’t understand anything I was saying. They would get really happy over the song then it would die out really quick.

Most of the spots in Europe speak English – I’m large over there. People know the songs and stand with my records for me to sign. They’re more into vinyl out there than CD’s and they’re not so heavy into the videos and the gimmicky stuff. They’re more into the grass roots –they don’t understand this bragging of jewelry and cars – it’s stupid to them. Someone like me will get way more play, or just appreciated in the stores than your commercial stuff. You do have that commercial world out there because they do have MTV and disco, but there is still a wider market for me out there than there is in the States. The bad thing about the States is [the culture] gets broken up to much. I can go to Jersey and they’re on a whole different vibe over there – and down in between South Carolina and North Carolina could be different. In Europe everyone knows everything that’s goin on out there – they’re almost on the same page unless you’ve got some military bases there that are corrupting everyone."

The possibility of working with numerous artists does not woo Complex. "I’m not a fan of doing and album and getting a bunch of features just to sell ‘me’. Anybody I work with it’s because I’m painting a picture and I need this color in it, or they’re just fam and they’re just around. If I did an album and I had Rakim and Kool G Rap on it, I’m the type that I wouldn’t put a sticker on it ‘featuring’. It’s just I hate that type of marketing. When Rakim made a record it was Rakim. When people make a record nowadays there’s maybe two songs that’s just the artist – or artists that just come out who are nobody – but they’ve got all these platinum artists on the album, so of course you’re gonna be like ‘oh, gotta get this’, and a lot of times the artists are not worthy of getting on the stage. If they try to do a show and perform by themselves it’s horrible - but I understand the rules of having to sell of having to sell ten million records as opposed to just making a decent record."

As for current projects, Complex is in the studio and on the road creating new music and even new careers for aspiring artists. "I have a new guy named Chris Jarvis, he’s been with me since like ’97. I have a compilation of him coming too on my label. I have artists like this guy Earl who goes by the name E-Dot - he’s from Canada and I met with him through this producer from up there. I did this song "Everybody Everywhere" with Words, Punch, Fudge, Earl and Invincible. I have ideas on doing another group thing called the ‘Rap Rock Stars’ with [El] Fudge and Fader – that’s the main one’s I go on the road with – Fudge has his own solo things and we share the same deejay, so when we go out we hype for each other and the show is better. We call ourselves the Rap Rock Stars mostly when we’re overseas – and we just be buggin out, getting kicked out of hotels and doin things that rap rock stars do."

Having seeing so much heartache and disillusionment in the biz, Complex expresses hope even within his frustration. "I wish I was with people I could trust from the beginning – and put out a record, and the next one needs to come out, then the next one – instead of putting out a single on different labels every time and confusing everybody. It hurts when one label has good connections in a certain area, then the next album is on another label that has different areas locked down – so somebody in Seattle might know about the first record but not the second one or the third. When you’re dealing with one company and they start to grow, they all know they’re hitting the same spot so I can build with my fans."

For those fans who know the deal, music from Complex is a mainstay in Hip Hop. His debut full-length offering is the self-released Hold It Down on his own Core Records. The thirteen-track album is a testament to Complex’s experiences in the music game. His desire to keep things simple and down to earth in business is a virtual conundrum in relation to his representation of complex lyricism. His desire to succeed makes for the exquisite unification of his multi-faceted mindset, and his love for the culture keeps him progressing in his own complexity.

~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~
courtesy of Elemental Magazine

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