“This ain’t no rap star’s shoes/the crew’s deep”
– “Repay That Snitch” – Darkim Be Allah
Hip Hop is a deeper music, music is that rhythmic harmony, rhythmic harmony is the sound found worthy. Worthy of a fame that reaches the people as the people. Fame Labs is the New York City based conglomerate of MCs and producers rooted in the birthplace of Hip Hop, The Bronx. They are steeped in the most honorable unknowns to the most worthy Hip Hop greats. A real story of brothers striking Arts out of hell with a knowledge of self, a wisdom of the streets and an understanding of beats and rhymes.
To begin, this is the story of Darkim Be Allah, their MC/Producer/leader. Telling it, the words of Darkim will be an aide to his humility and insight while his works share the depth of a Hip Hop great. Depth from when we once had heard better and more of the real. There were thousands of new beatverse lands mined, tough stuff here in this squadron, deep thoughts in that region. Creativity seemed endlessly victorious over encroaching commercialized dilution. Yet these moments are now just a peak that must be a standard for others to reach to. Darkim’s catalog, when measured by pressed vinyl and barcoded merch, is low on quantity and only understood as the treasured handcrafts they are.
Darkim is an MC with a perfectly pitched voice and timing that keeps insights, tales and battles intriguing. He accompanies breaks like the contours of a Timberland classic grasping the widened gaps between concrete slabs that divide and unite as ghetto rubble. He’s also a beatmaker who uses a bpm that allows him and his Fame minions to rumble through songs. His notoriety may be charted when he was first signed to Wu-Tang Records circa 1997. He arguably produced the most lyrical song THE RZA has ever versed (Gravediggaz “12 Jewelz”) and as part of AIG had one of the classic standouts on 98’s Wu-Tang Killer Bees The Swarm album (“Bronx War Stories”). The story of Darkim is a story of incredible Hip Hop music most don’t get to really appreciate. His life Is one of those insightful men, one of those rare, five percent out of a hundred, offering knowledge of self through real life Arts and daily walking trials. Here is just a day’s capsule of jewels the God dropped:
SUNEZ: Fame Labs catalog is small but extremely concentrated in high quality. Who are Fame Labs?
DARKIM: We go back to the Fresh 3 MCs. That’s who put me on. The whole thing about the formula about us going to the DJ. At one time it was Divine Love then it was Life Supreme. Then in the early 90’s everything switched over. A lot of equipment started coming out and alotta people started making beats at the crib. It kind of got out of fashion to have tapes with breakbeats. Everybody was looking for the samples and the SP 1200 drums, the MPC was all banging at the time. That’s when I started making beats. That transplanted to me being the one that everyone came to get beats from. So we started to make the tapes there. Fame Labs is really just that. Our crew, our formula. As far as the business side of music that’s our umbrella that we put our stuff out. The name is one of those things that’s important but the way it came about. When I first put music on the internet I just put my songs on there. This dude asked, ‘how come your CDs don’t have no cover?’ I said, ‘what you mean? That’s the cover with the name of the songs right there.’ [laughs] He was like, ‘you gotta have artwork for it.’
SUNEZ: That’s the old digital character we used to see on them?
DARKIM: Right. He designed the character. Once he designed the character I put the rest, an alias. I kind of mixed Superman and Lex Luther. He’s a type of scientist cooking up shit in the lab. So even though I was the superhero character, we’re at the lab cooking up this music. That’s how the name came about. Fame Laboratories.
VENGE MILZ: Darkim Be Allah is the King of Fame. And all music we did was in Fame Labs. And that’s how Fame Labs came about…
DARKIM: And the first album was Live at the Lab. It was just us at the crib. We was going to the studio but this was just us at the crib. For that first one I recorded the whole thing inside the ASR. We ain’t have no mic booth or nothing. No mic stand. My first tape was with one tape recorder here and another tape recorder playing the music. Then we just rhyme right here. Then we go outside and be like, ‘we got songs.’ Then we had the headphones with the boombox with two tape players. Doing it way before Pro Tools.
SUNEZ: So then who is Fame Labs?
DARKIM: It’s been fluid. I don’t think any cd I’ve ever put out had all the same people. The only person that’s been on every single cd has been me. It’s like you said, you got people that over the time they might start out say like Darik Messiah who started out as an MC but then he wanted to get into film so now he’s in the movie industry now. Then you got Mega Marv. They just doin their first joints now. If you God and you know your degrees and got some hype shit you could end up on a Fame Labs joint. As long as you not a jerk [laughs]. Fresh 3 MCs—Fame Labs. Even though people in this era be like, ‘who’s that?’ So I would really have to sit down and write it down but I never really did. Fresh 3 MCs and Allah Wise first. Then it’s me. Then you get Black Just, Venge Milz, K-Bar, Haneef, Mega Marv and so many more.
The Bronx is Pelan to the Gods because men with dissatisfaction are casually enslaved here and created an Art most think are grafted pieces of thoughts of failed young men. Emphatically no. Now cipher, violence surrounds a rare breed as Darkim that make a chronicling Art guided by principle as it revels in the stains and blesses of pitches, civilization class sessions, snitches and plus lessons. The grittiness just is, just as the insights are…
SUNEZ: The abuse of Hip Hop makes me ask the question of the range of explicit content to righteous ideals. All of it is being exploited somehow. What’s real?
DARKIM: Real is just real. If you skateboard everyday that’s what’s real to you. Then talking about what’s going on in the projects is not what’s real for you. Putting it as part of a bigger thing, it’s not that everybody should be talking about the street but when you got that totally blocked out then there’s a problem. I tried to rhyme about stuff that was popular at the moment and I was never able to do it. You can’t go into the detail of stuff. You can’t make it vivid to where people can come across like, ‘I wanna repay this nigga!’ You see Jay-Z talk about his corporate deals. If I started talking about making deals with Lyor Cohen it wouldn’t be as vivid as when he says it cuz I don’t make deals with him. When I was younger mostly all my songs I was victorious. When I got older and started taking losses in life then I started coming with songs like, ‘I had to overcome.’ When I was younger I was only talking about hustling and having this and having that. Then when I started having kids I started talking about hustling to feed my kids. Your subject matter is gonna grow. At one time everything was just battle raps cuz that was all that was going on. As time goes on you talk about whatever you’re doing.
As far as the elements, the foundation of Hip Hop, I don’t think it’s a Hip Hop thing. It’s a larger society thing where dudes will do a lot more for money. Back then there was a certain amount of pride. I grew up in St. Mary’s Projects so Flash and Melle Mel used to live across the street. I came in the game from the Fresh 3 MCs where they were like, ‘Don’t hold the mic like that.’ They taught you everything. For me, having the knowledge [of self] too, knowing where you came from. So when I listen to a lot of Hip Hop now it got a more R&B feel to it. If you ask somebody that was around in the 90’s they feel some kind of way that Chris Brown is considered a Hip Hop artist. Nothing against Chris Brown but he’s doing what he does and good at what he does. But it’s not Hip Hop. If you don’t know what it is then? Kid Rock? You might be rapping but you’re not Hip Hop. You got the family reunion and a dude walks up and he’s a nice guy. But you’re like, ‘you’re not in the family.’ He gotta go. [laughs] You just standing at the grill waiting for them to fix you a plate. ‘Who you with?!’ [laughs] You brought a plate but you’re not in our family to be a part of this.
SUNEZ: And there’s also the assumption of drama everyday?
DARKIM: What happens is not the same damn thing every day. On this particular day there might’ve been beef and we went to go to handle that a particular way, you understand what I mean? But then on another day I’m just at the park with my kids. I go to Parent/Teachers night so now I’m not real?! [laughs] I may make a record about one thing that happened that day. That don’t mean that happens every day. 50 Cent don’t get shot every day. In terms of whatever peoples gonna talk about if it’s gonna sound good then talk about that. As far as music it kind of made shit vanilla but as far as the community it kind of brought us together. That the dudes in Cali were talking about shit that I never knew about. When I saw Colors [film]I just thought they was bugged out. NIggas fighting over colors? Then when they were talking about their experiences and what they was going on out there. Then the Rodney King riots happened I realized how wild it was out there in California. To the point if you looked at the average rappers from different places. Ice Cube looked nothing like Big Daddy Kane. But right now the Game, Jim Jones and Kanye all wear the same shit. Everybody used to have different styles. Out here we were rocking new cars. In the west coast they was rocking ‘64s. But we didn’t use that unity of diversity for something positive. Now you can’t just tell a nigga you don’t like that song. Now you don’t like the West or now you don’t like that street shit. You don’t like it because I’m Black. No. I just don’t like that record. Like “Chinese Arithmetic,” I didn’t like it. And I love Rakim. I still put the album but I’m just saying.
1999, Sunez the God gets a knowledge of himself because a great record with thoughts is just a theme song. The man must move and make the film that accompanies it. Darkim was one of those composers I met, with his own scores and film. His Live at the Lab –Take 1 album was the beginning of releases of worth in the start of a decade that only knew how to disappoint. Darkim never did. His 2005 Fame Labs Presents AIG album with Allah Wise, sped through with an upper mid tempo tracks and soulful endeavors that constantly jumped through the details of hell (“Phone Call”) and the possibilities of block superiority (“Block Famous”) all transcended by mental supremacy (“Unbreakable Code”). The voice became even more refined for 2008’s Manhattan Project with a more powerfully intricate wordplay (“How many times I walk with plenty rhymes son/New York shines/Godbodys talk in the mind/I walk with nine/ Brought mine/Thoughts stay divine/ with crime/ Got experience/Judge and jury and they can’t seal me in/Make a plan or experiment…” – “Christ the King”). By the 2009, Darkim is a rare jewel that only the street orientated and cult cultivated could find. Darkim been one of the Gods in the ghetto…
DARKIM: There wasn’t a lot of people making money when I started rhyming. When you first started doing it you just wanted to kick them [verses] outside and have people like them. That was all there was to it. You wasn’t going out to beat Jay-Z or Lil’ Wayne cuz nobody was Jay-Z or Lil’ Wayne at the time. They wasn’t getting that type of money. Everything is different now and it’s not a thing where you could just put your music out there and people like it. You gotta do stuff now like have videos on YouTube. At one time it was a commodity if you was from the hood. Whatever you did, your everyday life. If you transferred that to wax and in a video you could do whatever. But now the people that got a leg up in the industry is the people that are social network savvy. If they know how to work Facebook their music don’t really have to be that good.
DARKIM: I was doing it before. There’s a lot of songs that I just make for myself. People sometimes complain say why aren’t these songs longer. But when I made them in the crib I was just buggin out in the crib. So when it was recorded somebody came and heard it and said I should put it on a joint. Making music is something that I’m just going to do. A melody might come to the head or a line might come to me and I’ll just write it down. I’m not a solitary kind of person. I could make the beat, I could do the rhymes, record it. I don’t need anything. I would do it regardless. The music and the business are two different aspects. In all reality it’s a relationship that’s antagonistic, creativity and this corporate shit. In terms of dudes that I know that actually made records I don’t think I met anyone that stopped. I know some people that were rhyming and never made a record and stopped. But generally everyone I know that made a record has equipment in their house that they toy around with at times. There’s dudes you ain’t heard from in ten years that have five or six albums at the crib. They just don’t want to fuck with the industry anymore. They’ve had that experience and don’t want to do that again.
MCing is not a respected skill anymore. Writing is starting to become a not-respected skill. Every nigga walking down the block now think they could write a book now. It’s the same thing with Hip Hop and you’ll look at TV now and you’ll see a suburban mom doing a rap. But you see her trying to sing a Whitney Houston cuz she knows she can’t sing that. If a guy thinks he’s the greatest basketball player of all time and you get on the court and miss seventy straight jumpers it’s gonna be clear. But if a dude makes seventy straight wack verses and you say it’s wack they’ll say you’re a hater. There’s an inverse relationship between the rappers that make the most money and who we consider the best. In retrospect, Pac and Biggie did not make the money—yes, it was money at that time. The deals they was getting they was top artists. If you think for one minute they saw the money that Drake sees. Drake puts something out he probably make more money than Kool G Rap has made his whole career. Not to say anything about how either one of them is but just in terms of. If you would ask in New York city back then who was better KRS-One or MC Hammer. It’s clear but there’s probably still brothers still trying to chase Hammer money today. They had the cartoon and everything. Or like Mercury Morris. He comes on every year in the NFL and when the last team loses he comes on TV and does a rap. It’s horrible. To him it’s not a skill. I don’t know how much Hip Hop he’s heard. I guess when he hears Nas, he don’t hear the wordplay. I’ve felt some kind of way about that for a long time. It’s got a lot to do with the dumbing down of the community as a whole. People don’t want to have to think. That used to be a strong point of a rapper. That he makes you think. At one point you wanted to be considered the best lyricist ever with the amount of information you could get out in three minutes. A lot of R&B music back then you hear the same thing over and over again. Like ‘Please, Please, Please’ [laughs] Now I love the record but he’s not giving you the same amount of lyrics that you’re hearing on “My Philosophy.” At one time the fact that a person could do a record like “My Philosophy” or “Poetry” and still make people dance. You’d say, ‘this guy is really good.’
One thing I noticed about Hip Hop a few years ago and today is when they do the lyrics they’re like, ‘it’s like this…like…that….like this….’ Then when the hook comes its ‘Yo! Yo! Yo!’ In New York when we do our verse we’re all hype on the verse and then the hook is like, ‘Yeah….yeahhhhh….’ We’re trying so much for people to hear our lyrics to say that we’re the greatest lyricist we’re the most expressive at that part of the song.
2009 Fame Labs drops God in the Ghetto. An album where the web was powered not by FB or Twitter but the quality and hustle of your own made site. Though the times already too digital, the major marketing and sales were still word of mouth and hand to hand. God in the Ghetto is a concrete classic where Darkim is just one of the many shining elements. Venge Milz and 36Zero shine as well as this being a sharply produced work. Snares clap, burst and strike viciously all while mastering is at its best precision letting basslines speak deeply on their true frequencies. Darkim leads lyrically with flawless pacing, piercing visuals and an insight that you have to read about now to understand how cultured it is.
DARKIM: The last cd, God in the Ghetto, was probably the most of us that appeared on a joint. That’s why it’s better when you’re together. That one was made with the original formula. Everyone was there. Brothers had lyrics and the beats came on. Once you like that then the state of mind becomes so unified that whatever you’re doing people can tell. When people in the studio ain’t in the studio I can tell. One of them is talking about something totally different.
SUNEZ: You’ve lived through a lot of changes in Hip Hop music making.
DARKIM: As far as the factors of the music industry it makes it harder in terms of some of the people. Like Cyrus Malachi is in London. The money to take planes and all that. There was a time it used to be like that. Now you ain’t gon do that. It’s to a point now that to people that’s how you make music. When I first came into Hip Hop it was mostly revolving around DJs. Somebody had equipment and you go over to their house. They throw the breakbeats on and you make records right there. They might give you a tape and you go home and right your verse. But making a song wasn’t feasible the other way. You always had situations when dudes lived in New York and they mailed the reel to California and then another artist might do something there and mail it back. It was always like that. In terms of right now that’s how you make music cuz they learn on Pro Tools. I learned in the analog world and applied that to Pro Tools. Computers was some other thing that I learned about. I had Pro Tools 1. Dude came over to my house, Black Just. He comes to the crib and gives me a mac laptop. He says, ‘this right here is the future of music. This is how people gon be making music. Everything is gon be digital.’ And I’m looking at him, ‘whatever you smokin’ don’t smoke that no more.’ [laughs] At the time, to me, something like that is gonna replace all of this we got. I’m like, ‘get the fuck outta here.’ I remember I used to mess with certain things and couldn’t figure it out. That was around 1994 or 1995. It was before my first deal which was ’96. Some people. That’s what it is. It’s something I appreciate. Before you used to have to move. Back then it was like moving. You had to move your reels, your keyboard, all the wire. You had to go with mad shit. Now you just go with your hard drive. I like that. That part is good. After that the thing is, for me, getting back to that sound.
In the 90’s even though dudes was having number ones on the Billboard it was still an underground thing. The groups that was out. Like I was signed to Wu-Tang. You had Mobb Deep. You were still underground. Now, this having friends shit on Facebook I don’t understand that shit. I’m from the Bronx and shit where you don’t talk to muthafuckas. What the fuck you talking to me for? [laughs]. I gotta get used to this new thing.
Maybe my people [i.e. fan base] are still there and I don’t need to do the other stuff. I could stick to my model. Even when I was on MySpace you could just press play. The more I see of Facebook and Twitter and these other engines the more I see a barrier. Another thing is I’m anti-establishment. So as free as they say everything is I have a problem with it going through Facebook. Having it go through I Tunes. In all reality we traded one corporation [record labels] for a bigger corporation that cares less about your music. We used to complain because there were 20 people on the label. Now you got 20 million people on your label. And they don’t care about your song. I don’t like that it’s Facebook/Fame Labs. Let it just be Fame Labs. I got my own site. That’s where I sell most of my shit and on the street.
For the underground, a lot of our fans don’t have internet or even credit cards. There are still other barriers that need to get broken down with that.
SUNEZ: These revenue streams have less people at the top it’s harder to even get into the rotation of promoted sight.
DARKIM: You got that right. At the end of the day it comes down to those people who are internet savvy and the big corporations, the major record labels still got enough money. When you go to Facebook on the first page you’ll see Lil’ Wayne and Rihanna even though they say there are all these independent artists. When you go to all these sites they can afford to buy all the banners at the top of the pages. If you was anti-record industry then you love the internet but if you anti-establishment, like me..Don’t tell me that the biggest company that had the largest IPO in history is underground. That it’s some kind of rebel company that I’m down with. Google is not rebels no more. Fuck Google Play. That’s just other people. Come to Google Play because we got 20 million artists. Back then if you were an underground artist you only got X amount of time they’d keep your poster there in the new releases. When that next cycle comes and we get the big dudes we gonna need that space. If it takes off and starts selling then we’ll give it some burn. Now, it’s the same thing on I Tunes. You still not getting that poster in the front of the store. You could probably go on ITunes and never see every song. I don’t think people are studying to see every song like they used to do at the record store…
When they get back to joyous study they’ll see Fame Labs still works and thrives. Hip Hop is still an Art of the people. Darkim Be Allah is still one of the Hip Hop great MCs out of the birthplace of Hip Hop, the Bronx.
FAME LABS MUSIC: @famelabs