July 30, 2004
Vintage Thirstin Howl Interview
I'm at the home of my friend and frequent collaborator Irina, and I found an interview she did in 1999 with (NY underground stalwart) Thirstin Howl here on her laptop, which she has given me permission to post:
Irina Slutsky: Today is Monday, August 23, 1999 and this is Irina interviewing Thirstin Howl III
Thirstin Howl III: Skillionaire
IS: SkillionaireÖ. So weíve got 25 minutes before heís gotta roll cuz heís a busy man. Tell me about your background and your life historyÖ.
TH: Iím originally from NY, I was born in Far Rockaway, Queens in Peninsula Hospital right across the street from Edgemere Projects and we moved to Brownsville when I was about 9 but we lived all around east NY and my family traveled around with my mother. Plus you know I lived from house to house with relatives as well cuz my mother spent a lot of time in and out of prison but Iím from Brownsville. Anyone ever asks you, Iím from Brownsville, thatís where I learned everything thatís where I became who I am.
IS: And Brownsville is a neighborhood in BrooklynÖ
TH: Brownsville is one of the roughest in Brooklyn, if not THE roughest. Nothing but projects in Brownsville. Every project is surrounded by a project on every end. I lived there with my mother and my two younger sisters.
IS: Do you feel like you were a good influence on your sisters?
TH: I was their father. Theyíll tell you that themselves. They hated me a lot because I was strict. Somebody had to be strict. My mother wasnít strict. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted. I didnít have too much discipline myself so I made sure my sisters were disciplined in some kind of sense.
IS: The first time you heard hip hop wasÖ..
IS: And how did it make you feel when you heard that?
TH: I wanted to know all the words just like she did.
TH: It was different, you know. It was just something that captured you automatically and I canít really explain it. It was just something you wanted to do.
IS: And ever since then youíve been interested in hip hop? Who did you like back them?
TH: Real pioneers like Treacherous Three, Whippa Whip, the Harlem World tapes, Grandmaster Flash, Furious Five, the Crash Crew, the Awesome Foursome, groups like that. I also used to breakdance and I really loved it. For a kid to be so young -- 12, 13 Ė and I disciplined myself, I practiced every day. Now I wasnít just a breakdancer Ė I mastered every move, along with my brother. I have an older brother as well. But my brother lived in Florida so he would live back and forth with us. We mastered breakdancing. It just expressed how I loved this art form. I was also into graffiti, we used to go bombing trains and things like that.
IS: And it made you feel like you were part of something bigger? Iím just trying to get at why you were so drawn to itÖ
TH: The love Ö you know how when you need to have something? It didnít make me feel like I was a part of something because it was a part of me automatically. It was a natural thing, it was my calling I feel.
IS: Who do you listen to now? If you were stuck on a desert island (sorry for the clichť) who would you take with you? What albums? Who do you respect?
TH: I respect lyrics more than anything. You can play a beat with your lyrics, thatís how I express it. Ghostface definitely. Canibus, Eminem. As far as albums, I would take Run DMCís Greatest Hits, Grandmaster Flash, Furious Five Greatest Hits, Iíd probably take a Doo Wop mixed tape from í95 Live with all the freestyles, Tony Touchís Power Cypher Part One, to me that was the best one he ever made.
IS: What year was that?
TH: Summer of 96. I would probably take Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth Soul Brother. Reakwon, of course, he has the greatest Wu album, to me, of all time.
IS: Whoís in your CD player right now?
TH: Nas. The I Am CD. Heís lyrical. He came back on the scene in a way nobody expected because he kind of got caught up in the Crystalle era and the player era, but the way he expressed himself on the new album Ė he gave everybody exactly what they didnít expect. Most of his shit was passion or hate or whatever he was going through he expressed it very well. Thatís important regardless of what youíre going through in life Ė youíre supposed to interpret whatever youíre going through into your music. So good times, hard times, bad times Ė whatever the case, a true lyricists is gonna be able to express that through his music anyway. So you can never say ďI got writerís block cuz Iím stressed.Ē You supposed to exercise that stress.
IS: Thatís one of your talents Ė to exercise that stress and rhyme all nightÖ
TH: I freestyle. Thatís just something I love to do.
IS: And when did you start doing that?
TH: I did it one time when I was 16. A friend of mine used to go practice djing in the studio so he asked me to some down there. This was in Brooklyn.
IS: What studio?
TH: It was actually Funky Slice Studios. Itís still downtown Brooklyn. My man Sha was djing, practicing in the studio, he had a video camera down there. Me and my man Disco and my man Haz went down there, we played with the mics and we freestyled for 2 hours. And he recorded this on the video. I still got the tape. Watching the tape now Ė I got busy! Meaning, I didnít write no rhymes I just went in there and said anything that came to my head and made sure it was on beat. But I never took it seriously and I never did it again. I didnít do it again till I was 26!
IS: What made you do it again?
TH: Getting drunk at my house. One day we just started playing this instrumental tape and heads was freestyling, just playing Ė but they way I seen it was able to come out was I couldnít stop. Everything was right and exact Ė Iím saying whatever comes to my head but Iím making it rhyme! When I saw I could do that, it was really getting me open. I thought, ďthis is what I love more than anything in life. And I could do it? Get outta here!Ē
IS: So you surprised yourself?
TH: I surprised myself. It turned into an everyday thing. And it led to whatever is to come about.
IS: When was the first time that you thought you could do an album? That you could record something?
TH: I started recording first. Once I got involved in the writing, I just started taking instrumentals that I would buy from the store, go in the studio and lace some rhymes over it. That helped me develop my style to see what I was going to become. When I first started, I wasnít Thirstin Howl.
IS: What did you call yourself?
TH: Everyone called me Big Lo The Barbarian. So that was the name I still went by, my Lo Life name. I didnít know what exactly I would be able to do or where I would take my style until I started recording. Then once I bought a four-track, we really started recording.
IS: When was the first time you did a semi-important show?
TH: The FIRST show I ever did was at the Lyricistís Lounge.
IS: What year was that?
TH: March 31, 1997. Me and Master Fuol performed along with Rack Lo. I didnít expect the response that I got. I never had done a show, I didnít know if I could do a show, I didnít know if I would have a crowd response. But the way the crowd screamed for the first show we ever did! And itís my first show ever and I got a picture in The Source behind it and I was happy. And to see my picture in three other magazines for that one night. I felt like we must be doing something right. It made us concentrate a lot more on our shows and stage presence as far as what we incorporated into the entertainment aspect of it.
IS: Tell me about the Spit Squad Ė what is it and how it came aboutÖ
TH: The Spit Squad are all the people who Iíve met when I started rhyming. Before I started rhyming I was into other things. I hung out with certain groups of people. But when I started rhyming, I didnít want to do anything else but always rhyme. You know how in a Karate movie, one man is travelling the roads and he runs into a bar and he fights with a guy and they become friends cuz of their skills. And then they travel to another town and fight another guy and he joins up with them and thatís how the Spit Squat got together. We all met each other on some battliní shit. But everybody who I met on the Spit Squad, we hit it off right away and we were together every day after that. As far as trust, as far as brotherly love for each other, as far as loyalty to each other.
IS: Can you name these people?
TH: Itís myself, Thirstin Howl aka Slobba Ranks; Master Fuol aka Iceberg Flem, Richie Balance aka The Soul Saliva, Rack Lo is Dr. Droolittle, Slick the Sniper is Hock-2-D-2, Knowledge B Born is Ernest Flemingway, Tashique is Brad Spitt, Skilla Gorilla is Mark Spitts Ė thereís a lot of other Spit Squodd affiliates. Thereís an immediate Spit Squodd like the ones who are a group. Thereís a lot of people out there that we came across in the same aspect and weíre down together. Like Punchline and Wordsworth, Quest the Madd Lad, Brooklyn Academy, Will Tell, Word of Mouth.
IS: For someone who knows little about hip hop, how would you fit yourself into the whole realm of hip hop?
TH: My motto was that as far as to capture anybody even people who donít listen to hip hop, a lot of my stuff is very humorous, meaning Ė I donít care where youíre from, what color you are, how old you are or what kind of music you listen to, everybody knows how to laugh. So if I can come across and capture a wider audience just by making them laugh, people who donít like hip hop, people who love hip hop Ė whoever it is, thatís the best way I can tell them Ė You wanna laugh? Listen. But, Iím a very serious person.
IS: So you use humor to get across some kind of point?
TH: The humor is actually who I really am. Itís expressed naturally because I grew up around people cracking jokes all day and this is all we ever did. Those werenít my intentions when I started. I didnít say ďOh, let me make this funny.Ē Itís just the way it naturally came out.
IS: How do you feel about what the Source said Ė ďYou either endure his punchlines or run away.Ē
TH: Itís a battle. When I began this all I ever wanted to do was battle. I would battle everybody. I would hunt mcís down to battle and stand outside a club waiting for rappers. I just needed to prove my point. Iím trying to get in the door. Thatís all I was trying to do Ė let them know that Iím worthy of what Iím speaking of Ė Iím worthy of any of your deals or opportunities you have to offer. I wanted to show them the HUNGER and thatís how the name Thirstin Howl came about.
IS: Yes, tell us more about your name? A stupid question I hear a lot from other people Ė what does it have to do with Gilliganís Island?
TH: The only thing it has to do with Gilliganís Island is my name. We call our studio ďSkilliganís Island.Ē Youíre not going to hear no Gilliganís Island gimmicks. Thirstin Howl was a millionaire who bragged about money. Iím the opposite. Money ainít my thing and I ainít bragging about it. I donít need that to show you I have skills. Iím a Skillionaire, thatís what itís about to me.
IS: Like you said, you donít talk about money. Some people say that í98 was the year of the Thug. Sometimes, Thug is all you hear. Some DJís are really pushing all that type of music. People are singing about being thugs, other people claim that no one is really a thug, etc. etc. Whatís your opinion on all that?
TH: A real thug is not going tell you heís a thug. Heís not going to exploit his business. Heís going to do what heís got to do. A lot of people glorify the thug life cuz they never lived it and they donít understand the consequences. A lot of people worship it Ė I donít know what kind of life some of these DJís have led -- I donít think itís been a thug life -- but maybe they admire thugs or look up to them or whatever. Everybody has their own interpretation for what they feel about it, but me personally itís nothing I want to glorify and show the kids of tomorrow or even our culture that we need to be thugs or we need to be bad or better than the next person, more aggressive. Thereís a lot of other things to talk about.
IS: How do you want to use your past?
TH: As an example. My past is what it is. I will never deny it. Iím not glorifying it. I just want to make claim for what actually happened, for what we did. But at the same time, I want to show people that we didnít stay in that realm of what we were doing. We expanded. There were the transitions within our lives that brought us about from a negative to a positive aspect. And thatís what weíre into now. Itís not like weíre just going to glorify all the negative stuff. Iím going to show you the positive and set the example if I can.
IS: You put your motherís mug shot on the back of the CD. Letís talk about that.
TH: Thatís something Iím very proud of. [Silence]
IS: Explain that because most people wouldnít understand.
TH: OK. My mother, whatever kind of life she led, had influence on who I am. In the environment I come from, her teachings were very valuable to me. Especially, to amount to whatever Iím going to amount to today. I come from not a pretty place. Me growing up there or anybody growing up there thinks ďThis is the ordinary. This is the normal.Ē Itís really a struggle. Itís really hard. Itís really tough.
My mother taught me not to be afraid of anyone cuz she was not afraid. My mother was actually a real thug to the day she died. I needed a gun, my mother got me a gun. I need a knife, my mother got me a knife. If I need to bring a girl to handle my business, I could do that.
My mother didnít keep me blind to the world. She let me go taste it for myself and see what it was so I could know the difference. She wasnít a positive role model for me, but she was who she was and I love her for everything she did. She did more prison time than I did! Probably more bids at the same time. She did her last bid in í96! [Laughs] She was still going back to do another six months for slinging her shit or whatever.
Iím very proud of that picture. I found that picture after she passed away. I had to pack up her stuff and go through her things and I found that picture. The first thing I did after I found it was to blow it up real big and I hung it up right on the wall in the middle of all I do so I can look up every day and thatís my inspiration right there.
IS: It inspires you toÖ.
TH: It inspires me to continue to not be afraid of shit, and love her for who she was and not worry about what she could have done for me or what went wrong. A lot of people condemn their parents for their up bringing. That picture Ė Iím proud of that. This is what we went through, this is the life we were subjected to but it made me a man, it made me strong. My mother used to bring razors to me on Rikerís Island. She knew how to sneak them in and all that. Where we were at, this was necessary. This was survival. So if she was able to teach me her tactics. Weíd go back and forth I used to go visit her in jail too. I would take her the gold chains that I snatched so she could be thugged out in jail. You know itís funny.
IS: A lot of people see this picture and it makes a big point.
TH: Let them know, they canít bite that. I donít want to see no other rapper with their motherís mug shot on the back of their album.
IS: How do you feel you represent yourself to your female audience?
TH: Cuz of the ďkeep on cluckinĒ song? Well, if you notice, our of 27 songs thatís the only song that speaks on women. HUMOROUS. We donít concentrate on women. Degrading them or even glorifying them. Thatís not our thing. Not to diss women, we love women.
IS: What do you hear from women?
TH: There were women who got upset. The ones who related to it got upset. The ones who didnít , thought it was funny. Those women exist. If you donít live your life the way I describe in the song, you would never be upset. You have no reason to be upset. If I say ďBitchĒ and if I say ďHoĒ (which I rarely do) Iím talking to the bitch and the ho. You know exactly what you are. Thereís bitches and thereís hos. It exists.
IS: I guess itís not that interesting to put on a song about a woman that you like, thatís not your style?
TH: I wouldnít say itís not my style. I havenít gotten to that.
IS: Itís in your future.
TH: Everything is in my future. I feel like thereís no limit to what weíre gonna do. Just cuz we did a certain kind of song doesnít mean that youíre going to see the same kind of songs again. We gonna expand as much as we can.
IS: When you write, do you consider an audience or do you write in a vacuum?
TH: I write for myself. Almost all that stuff on the CD, we were at home playing around recording on a four track, seeing what we could come up with. Not thinking ďYo, we gonna sell these tapes.Ē Of course weíre thinking Demo but a demoís three of four songs. We couldnít stop. We got tons of material. More than this. The whole thing was to enjoy what weíre doing and love what weíre doing and thatís what we did. Thatís how we were able to be creative, not concentrating on anyone but what we love and what we like. And Iím satisfied when I hear lyrics I like Ė I love my shit more than anybody. I listen to my own song a million times after I record it. If it goes exactly how I recorded it Iím happy with it.
IS: You have a record company right now.
TH: Skillionaire is my own label. This CD is my demo, whatever, but itís actually whatís setting the path for me. This is something that I donít plan to duplicate over. Whoever I sign to, whatever I do, none of these songs will ever be duplicated and put on another album. If I sign with one of the big majors, this CD will still be available only on Skillionaire.
IS: Who would you consider your musical and lyrical influences?
TH: Every era had a specific person or a specific lyricist. KRS-One dominated hip hop and rap in battle form and performance for a while. A lot of people discredit him now because heís not on the top of his game as he used to be or shining like he used to be. He played a big part. Big Daddy Kane was a big influence for me. Just being from Brooklyn, having that Brooklyn style, the way you dress, the way you walk, the way you talk, representing yourself. Being a thug, like I said, I donít talk all that thug stuff on here but itís the way I grew up. Itís actually what I was bred to be.
IS: What about the Latin aspect of hip hop music? Do you feel like you fit in?
TH: Not to discredit anybody, but I feel like Iím doing what nobody has done. Itís being touched. Tony Touch is tight with his Spanish stuff he does. I like Tony a lot. Beatnuts they do their thing too, but I feel the way I bring it, the way Iím representing it, itís totally different from what everybodyís doing.
IS: What is it that you bring that is so different?
TH: Iím a Puerto Rican, raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Where there are no Puerto Ricans.
IS: You were the only Puerto Rican family?
TH: On my block or whatever. There were a few here and there scattered around. Itís 90% Black and 10% Puerto Rican. Especially growing up in a project like that, Iíve seen pressures more than a lot of other people just being Puerto Rican. It made me stronger. It made me the one to apply the pressure rather than wait for the pressure to be applied to me. It actually turned me into whatever thug I was supposed to be. That contributed a lot to my whole Spanish vibe because I didnít grow up around a lot of Spanish people who spoke Spanish to me all day. My mother didnít speak Spanish to me. I lived with my grandmother for a while and she doesnít speak no English. Thatís how I was able to speak fluent Spanish with her. Being in Brownsville, I didnít exercise it as much so I was just around Black people my whole life. But when I started doing rap Iím such a lyricist and Iím real critical with all the words I use and in English a lot of stuff was used. But in Spanish almost nothing was used. I donít have to be so critical. At the same time, Iím not biting, Iím just flowing as it comes. My family roots, understanding my culture, the memories of my household, the family gatherings, the bond of my family even now is still the Puerto Rican culture is there. Itís a natural thing. Iím very proud to be a Puerto Rican.
IS: This is what you feel that youíre bringing to the forefront thatís different from anybody else.
IS: Give me a few things people expect and how you are different from that?
TH: People expect me to be funny like a comedian after they hear the music. Like Iím going to be joking around and laughing in your face all day. Youíre not going to see that. You expect me to be ignorant or stupid just cuz my music reflect a lot of funny shit and you think Iím going to be joking around a lot. Iím very serious. I want to handle the business. I want to get down to whatever we gotta get down to and keep it moving. Itís a lot of things. We are the total opposite of what people expect.
IS: Where did you get your vocabulary base?
TH: From the prison library! [laughs all around] I did a lot of reading and a lot of writing. I had so many female friends. I was a ladies man. I got at least five to six letters a day from different women. This was every day throughout years I would get that. Every day I would write back everybody. I would write stories. Creative stories. Or just write my thoughts and make them very visual. This was way before I started rapping. This is where I believe I got my writing skill. Picking up books here and there. Being in prison, you meet a lot of intelligent people. Everybody thinks you only run into the criminals. You actually meet so many positive people, such intelligent brothers that itís shocking. Theyíve been Subjected to the f**ked up lifestyles weíre introduced to being from the ghetto, but what they had to offer was really great. I met a lot of brothers who would just throw a big word at me just so I could go look it up. We would play games like that Ė ďUse this word in a sentence.Ē I wouldnít know the word so Iím forced to go look it up. Man sharpens man, trying to make each other elevated. Whether itís knowledge or strength. The same thing was in the gym. You make sure you got your work out partner so you push each other.
IS: Do you have a favorite book or movie or word?
TH: Beat Street. Itís a strong movie for me. I would like to Beat Street 2000. Letís do it over, cuz breakdancing came back. RESPONSIBILITY is an important word. Thereís so much that comes along with responsibility.
IS: What does that word mean to you? Responsibility for your past, your future?
TH: Responsibility for everything. If you want to be in control of anything, you have to be responsible for it.
IS: Where do you see yourself in five years? Go for it!
TH: In a big motherf**kin house. A big house with my whole family living in the house. Iím planning Thanksgiving 2000 Ė I plan to have a nice home with my grandmother and all my aunts cooking the biggest Thanksgiving meal we ever had. All my cousins, even the crackheads, the ones coming home from prison, the lesbian cousins, everybody is coming over. I donít give a f**k. As long as itís family. You need those people to keep balance Ė the ones who f**k up the ones who do good.
IS: What are you doing today to get you to where you want to be?
TH: Iím making sure I donít pass up anything. My motto is ďYou never know.Ē There are so many people in different things that are in your position Ė if youíre a new artist trying to come out, there are new writers trying to come out, new directors trying to come out, new everything in all different aspects now. Anyone whoís hungry and eager to get into what youíre doing, theyíre only going to push it for you. Meaning, Iím sitting here with you today. I would never turn away from the opportunity. I make sure I every ground. Say you write for a magazine that only has two readers. You never know who those two readers are. Iím not going to pass up anything. Iím not in a position to pass up anything right now.
IS: Youíre working hard. It was hard for me to schedule an interview with you really.
TH: Thereís so much on the table right now. Weíre running around.
IS: What can people look for in the stores, clubs, whatever youíre doing.
TH: You can find in the stores the Brooklyn Hard Rock single with Unique London, Spit Boxers featuring Master Fuol. Coming this month, Still Live With My Moms will be on wax, on Skillionaire. By end of this year by November youíll be getting a Game Records single from Thirstin Howl featuring Rack Lo Ė a song called ďPolo Rican.Ē Another song called ďSkilla B SkilledĒ PF Cuttin is going to produce one of the joints will tell is going to produce one. Weíre working hard, trying to secure a spot in the New Skillenium, thatí s the name of the album. When it comes out on whoever we sign with. Next year. Make sure they watch the Lyricistís Lounge TV show on MTV in January with Master Fuol.
IS: Anything else people should know?
TH: Yeah, tell them ďWeíre not playing.Ē