BB Interview: NYC legend DJ Kay Slay talks graffiti, mixtapes, censorship and ‘The Hip Hop Frontline’

In Hip Hop, Interviews by Nick Russell

Also known as the Drama King, DJ Kay Slay AKA ‘Slap Your Favourite DJ’, is an unmistakable ambassador of New York hip hop. Active in the community since 1983, he’s been referred to by The New York Times as “Hip Hop’s One-Man Ministry of Insults”! Before the now 52-year-old earned his spot as one of the most respected radio and mixtape DJs, Kay Slay gained notoriety in the graffiti world as ‘Dez’, featuring in hip hop documentary, Style Wars. Throughout the 2000s, he became the go-to advocate for mixtape culture, ushering in countless rappers, and contributing to the ascent of the likes of 50 Cent, Uncle Murda, Remy Ma and Papoose. With his new compilation album ‘The Hip Hop Frontline’, the Drama King has delivered sixteen heavy duty tracks, showing love to old school Godfathers of rap with the current generation of big hitters and new names too. Nick Russell spoke to Kay Slay about his views on the current climate, the current state of graffiti and mixtape culture, his most legendary interviews, which new rappers he’s cosigning and more!

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BB: How would you describe the format of The Hip Hop Frontline and who was involved in putting it together?

KAY SLAY: It’s a compilation album – It’s made up of records I put together from the artists that I’m feeling right now. Like a lot of these things, I do everything myself. I am my team, anybody will tell you that, they’ll say Kay Slay does everything on his own – it’s just me reaching out to the people that I got relationships with, that I’ve been working with over the years, sending out a beat – That’s it, ain’t no rocket science to what I do.

BB: Which of the tracks are you really most proud of creating? Which are the ones that really kind of stood out as the ones that you’re most happy to kind of put forward to the public?

KAY SLAY: the title track, because it consists of the pioneers who helped or made hip hop what it is today. Melly Mel and Grandmaster Caz. And then Raekwon from Wu-tang Clan, (who’s a good friend of mine) and then Cee Lo Green for the hook. We’ve got the legends on there and it just shows the real form of hip hop, and that hip hop feel.

BB: Are there any MC’s that you wish that you could have got on the project that you didn’t, that you weren’t able to?

KAY SLAY: I wanted to get Remy Ma on there but the time I reached out to her she was going through her pregnancy.

BB: What would you say have been the running themes that have faded throughout your run in hip hop? The themes that have been there at the beginning and are still part of the hip hop culture today?

KAY SLAY: Everything is there but it’s not there at the capacity that it was. There are lyrical artists but lyrical artists ain’t the most loved artists in the game in the United States. They like the simple rap now, they don’t like lyricists like they used to.

BB: And in your opinion is graffiti still like an integral part of hip hop culture in 2019?

KAY SLAY: Yeah it is but not in the United States like it used to, it’s more people doing legitimate walls and things of that nature because it’s a felony out here now, and nobody’s trying to catch a felony, at least I know I’m not!

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BB: There’s a strong drill movement happening in the UK, and recently two artists (Skengdo and AM) pled guilty to breaching a gang injunction by performing their song, as they’d been accused of inciting gang violence. Do you feel there are any circumstance where it is okay to censor rap music?

KAY SLAY: Well you know they tried that with Delores Tucker in the 1990’s – they were coming at the lyrics in Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle because they felt women were being portrayed a certain way. They were coming at Tupac and Ice Cube, and when NWA came out they were trying to censor certain records like ‘Fuck the Police’. When Three Six Mafia had the record ‘Tear the Club up’ there was actually riots going on in the South when them records came on. At the end of the day, is this a freedom of speech? I mean unless you change one of the amendments, how can you do that? If this is what I grew up on and this is what I know, how can you tell me I cannot express what I’ve experienced my whole life? If a person can’t handle the music or might do something crazy, then hey, put a ban on them listening to it, don’t put a ban on me.

BB: You’ve been on the radio for a long time, like Hot 97 and Shade 45. What have been some of the most memorable interviews that you’ve done n radio that really pop out as some of the dopest ones? That you’ll never forget?

KAY SLAY: Man, I did so many interviews, I probably- I could say 50 cent’s first interview when he was joined by Chris Lighty, rest in peace, that was exciting. Dipset interview, when the whole crew came together when they freestyled on the show, that was definitely a big one. Kanye West when he did his first radio interview in New York as an artist, not as a producer as an artist, I let him come on my show and freestyle. And him and his boy Consequence. It’s hard to think about a couple because there’s been so many.

BB: Definitely man. Do you feel like mixtape game is still alive or has the game shifted on from mixtapes?

KAY SLAY: Yeah. The mixtape game is kind of dead for me. At the end of the day when it comes to mixtapes, I’m not talking about albums, I’m talking about mixtapes. So it’s not a tape or even a CD no more. You’re about to call that shit a digital download tape right? The originality of it is gone unless you build up a connection with the artist (like I do). Everyone gets the records at the same time as the DJs because artists go straight to the internet with their music now. So unless you’re making the records yourself as I made for my compilation, then what’s going to be so special about your mixtape when they could go online?dj kay slay, mixtapes

BB: Would you like to move your focus of attention into playlists as your new format of mixtapes?

KAY SLAY: I mean I don’t mind – I’m just going to do whatever it is, within reason, that makes sense. I’m not selling my soul to be out there, I’ve been doing it this long. So as long as it’s nothing that’s going to mess up my credibility then I ain’t got no problem with it.

BB: New York hip hop has been in a state of flux over the last 30 years. What do you feel it needs to do to get back to it’s best days?

KAY SLAY: It’s not even with New York City. It’s not even what the rappers need to do. It’s just the fans. They like to listen to what they like to listen to. The rappers can make the hot records but if they want to hear somebody doing ‘the ABC’s’, what can you do? Put a gun to their head? We just make music for the people that want to hear it. And for the ones that don’t, more power to them.

BB: Dope. What names should fans that like that lyrical hip hop be looking out for, that Kay Slay is cosigning?

KAY SLAY: Definitely I like Dave East. Don Q, I’m a big fan of Don Q. There’s a young artist called 22G, he just signed with Kodak Blak but he’s from Brooklyn, he’s dope. There’s a kid from Philly his name is RJ Payne, he was just on my show freestyling last Wednesday, that kid is crazy, super crazy.

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