Interview by Jaz
Superstar Quamallah is a Brooklyn, New York born M.C., a producer and a fine DJ and he proves this on his new album “Godfood.” I picked the mind of
the Superstar to hear all about his interesting past; being signed to the West Coast label ABB records in the late 90's, his late Father, being
around legendary Jazz artists like Jack McDuff and working with Tajai (Hieroglyphics) and Taj The Infinite, plus his influences and why he spends
so long between recordings.
Philaflava: Superstar Quamallah I have to ask, why has it taken such a
long time between the 1999 Don't Call Me John EP, All Souled Out with Taj
The Infinite, Supastars with Tajai and the 2007 Godfood LP?
Superstar Quamallah: When I released the Don’t Call Me John EP, I was entering
a graduate program in African American Studies at U.C. Berkeley that very same year.
Also, at the same time my mom became very ill and I had to take care of
her. It was a lot to handle and it affected my music from that point on.
Plus musically, 1999 was a pivotal year for hiphop music where indie
artists were being shut out by large corporate moves and the “thug” image
was the only image and sound being promoted. I spoke on all this in my
single and album to be released after “Just Rap” but ABB didn’t feel that
the listeners would appreciate my message. So with school kicking my ass,
my mom almost dying and everyone rapping about being “thug”, I decided to
go way underground and only do musical projects that inspired me, which
were very few.
PF: Is the Headbangaz Vol 1 still available? Please speak on what that CD
was all about.
Superstar Quamallah: Yeah, the Headbangaz compilation is still available
only through cdbaby or one of the digital stores like iTunes. The album came about in an unusual
way. In 2001, I dropped out of my graduate program, did a tour with Souls
of Mischief to Japan and Australia and then once back in the states I just
picked up and moved to Los Angeles. I had finished high school at Crenshaw
in LA so I was reunited with old friends who were huge street figures. The
status I acquired from hanging with them gave me juice in the
neighborhood. I started recruiting emcees to do music with and the first
cats I recruited were from Inglewood High School where I was teaching. I
recruited Yung Walt and Kryme at 17 years old because no one could touch
them in a battle and they had lyrics for days. Then I hooked up with my
barber Q-Ball and his twin brother Tonto because Tonto was also a producer
and his style was unlike anything I had heard. He had that down south flow
and sound before the west really knew about it. That was the nucleus and
we picked up another another 7 emcees along the way. We actually recorded
3 albums and were offered deals but all the deals wanted to “rape” us!
(Laughs) We were all making money so we said “fuck you” to a lot of people…it
felt good! We even sent the album to Roy Jones, the boxer, because my
cousin was dating him at the time and she said he really liked the
concept. They broke up later and then he released his own version called
the Body Headbangers! We were pissed but that’s when I decided to move
back to Brooklyn and just go back to my roots.
PF: Did you plan on or had you recorded a full album of material back in
1999 for the ABB label?
Superstar Quamallah: Oh hell yeah! I submitted a full album to Beni B of
what I thought was my hottest shit at the time. “Don’t Call Me John” was just me having fun, but
not too lyrical you know. So I did a serious album called “Big Quam” where
my lyrics were up to par. Beni liked the album but felt that it needed
some tweaking. My single was denied like I said before because of the
lyrical content, it was very aggressive – almost on like a DMX/Dead Prez
tip. But I was just growing up as an artist trying to find myself as an
emcee and producer.
With my mom being sick, she was in so much pain that she would moan at
night. I had to stay up many nights to help her through the night. That
was toward the middle of ’99 and I would just stay up and write and
record. I made a personal album called “The Painwriter” just to vent my
pains. The album was for my ears only and I used it to also speak on
friends turning on me and my frustration with the Record Label.
“Painwriter” is my hardest and most emotional work but the only song I
released was the title song on the Headbangaz album.
PF: What happened with the Supastars album, why was it not released in the
early 2000's and is there any unreleased material from the sessions
Superstar Quamallah: Honestly, the timing was not right. Tajai and I worked
a deal with ABB and then released the single and promoted it during the Japan/Australia tour.
But when we got back from that tour we were both so busy and in a
different space mentally that we never followed up with the album. That
album was definitely a project that allowed Tajai and I to vent, be
creative and do something different than what was being created at the
time. After it was recorded, ultimately we had satisfied our objective and
I think the business side of getting the album out wasn’t on our agenda.
Plus, listeners didn’t appear to be ready for that type of album from
Tajai and myself.
PF: How do you feel personally about Hip Hop as a culture today?
Superstar Quamallah: Unfortunately, for the younger generation, Hiphop today
has evolved into a business culture more than ever before. I had the opportunity to
experience the culture at it’s peak as an artistic movement thriving on a
passion for being creative, original, aware and the best at what you did.
As corporate America and lower/working class in America both saw the
potential value in the culture, Hiphop became more of a commodity than a
practice. The change for me has been tragic as an artist but my people are
struggling extremely hard here in the States. Racism is so covert and the
job market is so incredibly limited for Black men here that many of us do
whatever we can. Don’t let the videos fool you. There are only a handful
of hiphop artists actually making a living from their music but there are
hundred of thousands of Blacks living in poverty here - that became
evident after Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was exposed. Hiphop as a
culture today has been appropriated by the mainstream society here in the
States which stands in complete contradiction to why it was created – as
an outlet for societal “outsiders”. Today true Hiphop is overshadowed by
popular Hiphop which is designed to entertain an audience ignorant of the
PF: Give your thoughts on what you think needs to change?
Superstar Quamallah: Everything. Hiphop music needs to become unpopular
like graffiti and break-dancing so that only the truly dedicated and most passionate do it.
As long as children believe you can possibly make millions from one hit
“rap” record, you’re gonna have millions of Myspace music pages (laughs).
PF: Who are you listening to these days and who inspires you as far as
today's artists go?
Superstar Quamallah: I’m digging Blu & Exile, Black Milk, Common, Big Shug and
Little Brother. Honestly though, I spend most of my time listening to my old record
PF: To be honest, did you think a lot of your fans would have originally
thought you were from the West Coast being that you were signed to
the ABB label and how did that signing come about?
Superstar Quamallah: You know I never imagined I would have fans when I put the first record
out. I had just given Defari, my godbrother and cousin, a copy of the
music I was doing and he passed it on to Beni B. When Beni came to me and
said that he wanted to put it out, it was a spit and handshake deal, no
contract or nothing. I was so focused on school that I never thought
beyond being able to hand all my friends a copy of my record which was a
childhood dream of mine. Plus, I’ve been going back and forth from coast
to coast for so long now, my birth certificate reads Amtrak!
PF: When did you make the move to the West Coast and were you originally born
in Brooklyn, New York?.
Superstar Quamallah: Yeah, I was born in Brooklyn, NY but I grew up in
Washington Heights located uptown in Manhattan by the George Washington Bridge. My mom and I
moved to Los Angeles when I was in the tenth grade and I finished high
school at Crenshaw High. I would go back to New York every summer and
Defari and I were there together at Columbia University for a couple of
PF: What equipment do you use to make your beats? You certainly have a
unique style and enjoy chopping up your samples, how do your ideas
come about, do you have them in your head already or do you just sit
down and go through your record collection?
Superstar Quamallah: I use a couple of vintage drum machines that were never
popular so they are unheard of. My favorite I use is my first MPC 2000, because it’s so
simple. I use different techniques every time for making music. I pride
myself on not making beats lately, I play the drum machine like an
instrument without the looping feature. That’s how I made “Godfood.” A lot
of people think that those are just beats that are saved in my machine but
they are live recordings that took me hours to create and perfect
sequences for (with some scratches layered on top). When working with
samples, I will listen to the original record for a while and then new
sounds will appear in my head. Most times certain sounds stand out in the
record and I start to orchestrate in my mind before I sample.
PF: “Godfood” contains samples from Style Wars and Wild Style and a few classic
tracks that have been used as loops and samples, was your intention
with this album to educate as well as create an interesting listening
Superstar Quamallah: Mos def! I’m a teacher as well as a DJ by profession,
so I just did what comes natural for me. With the state of Hiphop being what it is, I wanted
to do something that the “true heads” would recognize and say “oh shit –
that’s the realness!” At the same time, I wanted to create something that
the younger heads still in their teens could begin to ask questions about
and look at as an alternative to creating albums with 10 or more songs, a
catchy chorus and 16 bar verses. A lot of people have been saying that
they wanted to hear me emcee on more of the tracks but they may need to go
back and study how the tracks are composed. There is some intricate shit
going on in “Godfood” that goes beyond words. And you know the deal with
Wild Style and Style Wars. They were the first two films to capture the
culture from the artist’s point of view and I wanted to add that
significance to this project.
PF: Did you have to get permission from any artists for using their records
Superstar Quamallah: Permission? That’s the beauty of underground Hiphop music!
PF: Do you prefer DJing/producing or rhyming?
Superstar Quamallah: I go back and forth. But I would have to say that I enjoy DJing the most. I love being behind the music.
PF: A lot of people have said that this album is this year's J-Dilla
Donuts, was Dilla an inspiration to you?
Superstar Quamallah: (R.I.P J-Dilla) It’s crazy cause until Donuts, I had never thought of
Dilla as a sampling producer. I was more familiar with his work with the
Tribe, Fantastic Voyage and one of my all time favorite albums by Common,
Like Water For Chocolate. I loved his use of the organ and drums and I
thought to myself, “maaaaan my dad would have been proud if I could do
shit like that.” It wasn’t until Jaylib that I heard him use heavy
sampling along with Madlib. I was inspired by J-Dilla’s use of instruments
in such a soulful way. He was the best to me. As far as sampling I had
been doing that for quite some time because I was inspired by DJ Marley
Marl and DJ Premier. Donuts was a phenomenal album to me and since most
people hadn’t heard my progression with sampling production since ’99 I
could definitely understand the comparison. More than anything I’m honored
to be associated with the likes of such a great musician and innovator.
But for Godfood I was actually inspired by the old New York mixtapes from
like ‘90 to ‘93 by DJ’s like Kid Capri, Ron G and Doo Whop. And when I was
younger my friends and I would make beat tapes like the ones Flash and
those cats would have with the breaks coming back to back. That’s all I
had been listening to right before making Godfood.
PF: Did your Father Big John Patton teach you a lot about music and the
industry?, please speak on his memory and what you learnt from him?
Superstar Quamallah: My father abandoned me and my mother by the time I was like 4 or 5. I
don’t remember him much at all. I talked to him for the first time back in
1994 but he was so ashamed after the first conversation that he got wasted
and I never called him again. He died in 2002. He was a street cat and
that’s why I never use drugs or promote street life. It’s a hard life with
more downs than ups.
PF: What was it like growing up having esteemed Jazz artists, Grant Green and
Lou Donaldson and Brother Jack McDuff around you?
Superstar Quamallah: They loved my mother cause she managed my father’s band
for years. They were the one’s that mentored me on manhood. I never even realized their
greatness until I heard Tribe Called Quest sample Lou Donaldson and I
started hearing cats in the Hiphop community mention their names. For me,
they were just cool ass Black men whom the American system hadn’t broken
and made suckas of. I just wanted to be cool like that!
PF: When you first arrived on the scene, you had Clever Jeff and Cool King
Asad on your EP what happened to these artists please?
Superstar Quamallah: Clever Jeff was the man in 1994. He was signed to EMI and
was working with Quincy Jones and doing national tours. He’s a friend and music mentor and
we continue to still do music together right now. He has his own label and
new material out. He did a recent album called Street Therapy that people
can find on CD Baby. Cool King Asaad was my best friend at Crenshaw High.
We formed a crew in high school and though we parted to go to different
colleges, we stayed in contact and I had to get him on my first record.
Since then, we still talk and he is still writing lyrics. He is a
brilliant writer. He hasn’t recorded anything because he has been focused
on his career of becoming a teacher.
PF: What material do you have planned for the future?
Superstar Quamallah: Ahhhh man! First, there is my cousin in Harlem named Taj
the Infinite. His new album is called Café Taj and it is so thorough! It’s finished but I’m
just waiting for the right time to get it out to the listeners because I
want a lot of people to hear this.
Next, I’m gonna follow up the Don’t Call Me John EP with a Part 2 full
length that is gonna be bananas! I’ll be talking a lot of shit on that
Also, I’ve got a few tracks on Defari’s new album King’s Holiday along
with Madlib, E-Swift and possibly DJ Premier!!! From the stuff I’ve heard
this is easily gonna be my favorite album from him – very much hardcore
Those projects will all be out pretty soon so stay tuned in!!!
Thanx for the interview Jaz and keep the peace!
For more info about Superstar Quamallah please visit
And to purchase his new album go to http://cdbaby.com/cd/squamallah