One Nation, Invisible

The untold story of local hip hop: 1981 to 1996

T.C. Ellis: Prince didn't really want to deal with rap. I was like, "Prince, man, this is the new thing coming." He was blowing me off. Have you seen the movie Graffiti Bridge? I'm in that. I'm the one bugging Prince about letting me rap. That's a true story except it happened over five years rather than a couple of days.

Verb X: Prince wasn't really doing anything for the hip-hop scene. He was trying to rework it in his own image, and that's not what hip hop is about. T.C. Ellis didn't get any love here, dude. None of those cats.

Brother Jules: Prince always wanted to be a rapper, to tell you the truth.

Travitron: To me, hip hop was for all those folks who said, "Forget Prince."


Tim Wilson: "Twin Cities Rapper" was probably the first rap record out of the city. Then came the I.R.M. Crew.

Dwayne Carter, a.k.a. D.C., DJ/promoter: They were the first local group where you'd go to a party and hear their record. Travitron and all the rest of us DJs was playing them.

Kel C: I had left the International Body Breakers, the crew I was breaking with, and started rapping on my own. I was just getting my name when a guy named Charles Lockhart had an idea to go ahead and form a rap group.

Charles Lockhart, I.R.M. Crew manager: My son [Gage] told me, "Dad, you should get involved with rap music." He knew some people that could really rap. I told him to introduce them to me. It started with Curtis Washington, who was TLC in the group. Curt knew Kelly Crockett, Kel C, and Kelly knew Doug Shocklee, Devastatin' D. Then Gage said we need a beatboxer, and that's when they got Billy, who was B Fresh.

Truth Maze: Kel C asked me if I wanted to be in the group in late '84, early '85. He let me know they were cutting an album. Next thing I knew, we were in the studio.

Gage, MC: Later I was like, "We need a DJ," so they got Calvin Jones, Cuttin' Cal. When Cal made his exit, Michael Mack came in.

Charles Lockhart: What I did was, I decided to press the product myself. There was a local pressing plant that did albums, so I hooked up with him, and this lawyer gave me the money to get the record pressed up. This was the one with "Uh Baby" on it, "Diseased America," "I Dream of DJs," and, I think, "R U Ready 2 Change the World?" Jevetta Steele sang the hook on that. It was a mini-album called The I.R.M. Crew.

Kel C: I was already calling myself the Immortal Rap Master. I said we could be the I.R.M. Crew, the Immortal Rap Masters, and they liked that.

Charles Lockhart: We did our record-release show at First Avenue. [Club manager] Steve McClellan was real friendly to rap back then, so he gave me the front room, and I really hyped it. I had all the hot DJs--DJ Cowboy, Kid Delite. When the group came, they arrived in a limousine.

Kel C: We got out the car, and the line was all the way down to Hennepin on one side, and all the way down to Eighth Street on the other side. We had these new outfits that we had just bought. We thought it was cool when girls grabbed on your clothes, but we were broke, so the clothes that we had on, we couldn't afford for them to get ripped. We were angry when girls started pulling. Like, "Get off of us!"

Truth Maze: The I.R.M. song I liked best was "Uh Baby," because we made it up on a dance floor, dancing at a party.

Kel C: It was about the girls at that particular time that we all loved. I did a version of Prince's "Darling Nikki," but twisted it around to a girl's name, Jenny. Actually, Jenny is my oldest son's mother. At the time I was writing this, she was pregnant with him. He's 18 years old now, Little Kelly. He's a rapper, too.

Truth Maze: We knew the music. We knew what was moving in the clubs and on the street. But what I noticed early on with I.R.M. was that the production was being handled outside of us, even though we had ideas. We got with the guy from the Information Society as producer, Paul Robb. We basically produced some stuff that wasn't going to sell for us.

Paul Robb, producer: I'm pretty confident the record would sound cheesy today.

Tim Wilson: I.R.M. got national distribution with K-tel, and at that time, to be honest with you, K-tel had no business putting out rap records.

Kel C: Gang Starr, with Guru and DJ Premier, had signed to K-tel at the same time. These guys were a good group, so we pretty much thought, "This is it."

Charles Lockhart: When K-tel took over, their distribution network was not savvy. I went to Tower Records in New York, and they had I.R.M. in the blues bin. When I went out to L.A., clubs were playing the record. But K-tel didn't have the respect of the industry. I talked to the buyer at Tower, and he says, "Well, Charles, we like your music, but why did you sign with--" They called them "Kiddie Tel" back then.

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