5 Questions For Special Ed


“What drew me to rap was the rhythm and the rhyme, the flow, the messages, the feeling that it gave me.”

Twenty-one years ago Youngest In Charge became an iconographic piece of hip-hop’s Golden Era to be learned from and followed by all lyrical worshippers. Edward Archer’s debut as Special Ed did make him the youngest in charge at age 16 since LL Cool J’s Radio in 1985 and “Roxanne’s Revenge” from a 14-year old Roxanne Shante in 1984.The pure synergy between Ed and producer Howie Tee harvested one of hip-hop’s most celebrated works, which keeps renewing itself with each next generation of hip-hoppers. “I Got It Made” and “I’m The Magnificent” have both been referenced by every other capitalist-loving rapper for their prominent boasts and being the theme song for future rappers who would get richer faster. Last year Rick Ross covered “I’m The Magnificent’ and used it as one of his many mantras and odes to his dubious street king image. Despite’s Ed’s appearance on the remix and a segment in D-Nice’s True Hip-Hop Stories most fans have wondered, Where did Special Ed go? The former Crooklyn Dodgers member has released his last CD, Still Got It Made in 2004 but has spent the bulk of his time making sure that other people have it made. A self-appointed obligation to helping youth and others become personally and economically empowered may have turned him into the most charitable rapper alive. A new album called The Specialist is slated for release next week and he is also touring with an old school party called The OSSE. Ed was kind to speak with me about his past, present and future projects in a voice that had its most passion when he spoke of his need to serve others.

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So what’s been going on with Special Ed? We saw your episode of True Hip-Hop Stories last year, we heard you on Rick Ross’s remix of “Magnificent” and you were on Mo’Nique’s show with Big Daddy Kane, Chubb Rock and Dana Dane a couple of weeks ago?

Special Ed has been up to a lot. Many many divisions of what I’m trying to accomplish. One major thing that everyone is looking for is the album.
I have a new album it’s called The Specialist. The Specialist is slated for release this summer end of July and it’s a great album. I’m a loyal dude I’m still working with Howie Tee I’m working with Mark Sparks who’ve I’ve worked with on two previous albums and I also found a lot of new talent so I have new and upcoming producers that I affiliated myself with. They’re featured on my new album one is Jay P one is named Nineteen and DR. So pretty much like from the original to the brand new I got it all like that. I have some vocalists, some features, you know I’m not really a name dropper I don’t think that that’s necessary I think if you’re going to do what you’re doing do it let them see what you’re doing show me don’t tell me you know that’s my philosophy. It’s more of a pleasant surprise when I hear a collaboration I didn’t even really know about.

I’m coming with the element of surprise. I got some OG’s on there I got
some multi-platinum artists on there. So it’s gonna be a great look. I’m very excited about The Specialist. This album is on my label, which is S.E.M.I. Records, that stands for the acronym The Special Ed Music Group and that is the parent company and the original company that I bragged back in 1989.

And that’s the album in addition I’m doing an event called The Old School Special Edition we call it OSSE. The OSSE is a branded specialized event that goes around to different markets but primarily it’s a once a month event and it’s hosted by me. What I do is take back what belongs to us, which is the whole old school moniker.

“You have a lot of people in different markets they just use the name old school when they may not even be old school for one, for two they don’t employ or hire old school artists any old school DJs or personalities. They just use the name to draw people and that’s it.”

It’s authenticity at it’s finest. First of all you have me on there representing it. I’ve been professionally in the game for 23 years. So that is the old school. What my intent is to research this and bring back the classics and the legends and the icons of hip-hop period. I will be getting work to DJs, the real authentic DJs as well as some real authentic old school artists. So every month I will feature whether it be a classic DJ or classic artist to come and either DJ or host. When the vibe is right we always love to rock a crowd so I look forward to some great classic times. And we will definitely be capturing it on film. The first one is slated for July 10th here in Charlotte. The second one is Memphis, Tennessee July 23rd and we’re opening other markets as we speak. So pretty much it’s a mold I’ve branded and will be taking wherever there’s a need for authenticity and old school and classic music. And this is not just hip-hop I’m talking about old school R&B, house pretty much reggae you know those hits throughout the ages that sometimes seem to fade away because radio is so bent on the now. Well my intent is to bring back the music we love to reminisce. So it’s kind of nostalgic and that’s what I’m bringing with the OSSE event. We’re coming to a city near you. I’m doing a lot of positive reinforcement with this event. For one when I come to a market what we do is incorporate a likeminded local promoter or individuals to join us. They get an opportunity to get on board either as a sponsor or an authorized promoter of the event. An opportunity to earn some income with us along with bringing their following so I invite promoters that specialize in mature events. I like to just give them the opportunity to join us we’re not excluding them.

“And in addition it’s all a party with a purpose so what I’m doing is I’m donating a portion of the proceeds in every market at every event to a number of non-profit and charitable organizations within the specified community.”

If it’s in Detroit I’ll be giving back to Detroit and so on. It’s just a way for me to enable people to enable themselves learn how to give back learn how to help others. So everyone wins, the local promoter wins, the old school classic DJs win, the legends and classic artists win the people win. The information is also available on my website which is Specialedmusic.com. And pretty much the same thing with my twitter is SpecialEdmusic, YouTube, MySpace, Face book is all slash SpecialEdMusic so anyway you need to find me online. So with that all said that leads me to my other ventures, which are more philanthropic, definitely involve me aligning myself with several non-profit and charitable organizations for the betterment and empowerment of people and the community. I feel like I can always do for myself and my family with what I already do. My intent now is to enable and empower people to be able to help themselves and teach them how to help others without compromising their own well-being and futures. There are ways to implement and allocate you know help towards certain causes and needs it just takes people to step up to the plate and represent that and do it. The same way you can open up your own thing and do this and do that and make money for yourself you can also do the same thing on a wider scale and help more people. So that’s one of the things that’s important to me at this point in my career.

“After over twenty years I’ve done pretty well for myself and I do help others and I do pretty well for others now it’s time to show people how it’s done and how to do it so they can reach back out and make a difference.”

A lot of people don’t know that they can do that they can get funding open and start programs they can educate children they can mentor and talk to people and make a big difference and that’s what I’m really trying to do right now. I do a lot of work with organizations such as The Urban League a lot in the Carolinas because that’s where I am. You know there’s kids who enforce positive images through hip-hop culture so the kids learn early the positive side of hip-hop and how it can help to develop your abilities, skills and just positive imagery instead of the normal negative images that are portrayed through the mass media. There’s Absopure they bring about awareness of all cancers which is a big issue in a lot of minorities just don’t really get it healthcare and caring for yourself and your body is important and one of the ways we can prevent cancers of all kind and it also goes into mental health as well. You know most of our sicknesses develop mentally first and then if affects the body so we need to be able to know how and help prevent, cure and maintain ourselves and our families and our children. We have the Scott Care foundation the Scott Care foundation what they do is they provide scholarships to high school seniors and people maybe just out of school who wanna go to college to pursue an education in the arts. I just came from a scholarship awards ceremony two or three weeks ago in Winston- Salem, North Carolina and they sent eight kids to college. And I’m happy to be a part of that and I contribute as well I can say that I’m helping others further their education. So things like that in general are the types of things that I do on my own without really trying to exploit it in a way selfish at all. I’m very giving these days. There’s some places and things that I go to that you might never know but know that the people there know I was there to influence and help and motivate.

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It sounds like the “I Got It Made” philosophy taken to the next level.

Exactly. I think you have to lead by example and people can see me doing that maybe it will influence them to do it. And that’s the type of changes that does make a difference. Sometimes you don’t think it makes a difference but just from “I Got It Made” say for instance that alone I’ve created multimillionaires whether directly or indirectly whether they choose to admit it or not I know what I’m responsible for. And if I can do that by a song then I can continue to do that through song as well as real life.

A couple of years ago Gza used you and LL as examples of young MCs with skills in a critique of Soulja Boy. What do you think happened between your debut and now where we don’t see as many young rappers with lyrical skills? Not to say that Soulja Boy doesn’t have his place.

What Soulja Boy is doing is very lucrative it’s providing a lot of career opportunities so to speak incomes for families. You know he’s feeding people so at the end of the day he’s doing his part. As far as creatively now times change, things change, people change there was you know blues, jazz, soul, R&B, disco, hip-hop and it’s still hip-hop but we evolving as a people and culture.

“You know kids want to hear something different at times we’re in times of economic stress and depression sometimes it’s good to just give people simplicity and pleasure in their life just to be happy to think good thoughts and that is what I think Soulja Boy is more or less doing.”

However there are other artists that have lyrical capability and skills that do not get the opportunity to shine because pretty much what it boils down to is what labels and executives think is marketable and will sell. It’s pretty much all based on what they think will do well. If they think Soulja Boy will do well as opposed to maybe like a young Talib Kweli like a child version of Talib then they’re gonna go with the Soulja Boy cause they wanna sell units. But at the same time that young Talib needs to be heard because he’s got a message in his song that can enrich and empower some lives. These things are repetitive these things influence the youth because that’s how youth learn through repetition and experience a lot of repetition because they don’t’ get to experience as much as adults. So saying that to say you know the majors and the companies and the corporations they push that because it sells for them. So we as a people and a culture need to acknowledge the real side of hip-hop and the message in hip-hop. So that’s pretty much what happened and as far as child stars go they stopped looking for talent and started looking for marketability. They’ll grab a kid off the street and write his album as opposed to when I was in the game I wrote my whole album every word that I’ve ever spoken. I’ve never believed in you can not be an artist and have someone else paint the picture for you and you sign your name. If you’re an artist you’re an artist so what that leads me to believe is that we need to find these young artists that are actually creating their own art as opposed to performers who are given songs and perform them. If they are writing songs that’s not making any sense or enriching any lives or minds that’s the stuff that needs to be on the backburner that’s the play around stuff. It’s the other way around they’re feeding us the play play stuff and suppressing the culture. And like I said they are feeding families and such but they are other families that deserve and need to be feed as well.

When you started rapping did you ever think it would turn into the kind of corporate thing so much of it has become?

Well yes because well not at the beginning but once I started to see the artists on TV then I knew that it can go somewhere bigger. Because it was just in the street it wasn’t widely publicized and it was club culture in the disco era and when it became mainstream and it started putting rap artists on Soul Train and (New York) Hot Tracks that’s when I knew that rap was going somewhere much bigger than us.

“With that being said then came Run DMC, which blew it over the top and just let me know that what I was doing was viable and there was a place for it in the market. Because at that time I was already listening to “Super Rhymes” and Melle Mel I had a Fischer Price Phonograph and four older brothers.

So when they were bringing the music home I’d play it all day. I knew “Super Rhymes” back and forth “The Birthday Party Rap” Sugar Hill, everything. And what made me see something different was seeing it on TV instead of just the records, which were underground, and you know mixed tapes when they were really mixed tapes cause Howie Tee had a crew he used to make mixed tapes.

“Radio didn’t even play hip-hop then it was just underground shows Awesome Two WHBI, Red Alert, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl and then The Supreme Team The World Famous Supreme Team they started out on radio doing a local underground radio show and that was the only places we could hear hip-hop. I used to have to stay up late at night as a child because I loved the music and I wanted to hear it sometimes I’d fall asleep and wake-up mad because I missed it.”

Then it was really a culture now it’s still a culture but the culture’s been crossbred and watered down and made into other things like. I said hip-hop has many genres there’s holy hip-hop, hardcore hip-hop, revolutionary hip-hop, conscious hip-hop, party fun hip-hop so I can’t really discredit of them because I don’t go to Blockbuster and say ‘I only want to see kid’s movies there’s different genres of entertainment so they should all be given the respect and at least some type of credit. Someone put their artistic forces and energy into that there is someone’s soul in each piece of work so I respect that the energy that was put forth to make that happen. Whether or not I like it personally or I can stand it, it’s certain movies I can’t even watch because I don’t want to I don’t want those images in my head I don’t want to see all kind of demonic, killing and all kind of it just depends with certain subject matter I leave it alone at my discretion other people may use discretion as well if it’s a certain type of music a genre of music you don’t agree with don’t listen to it that’ll show what you want and don’t want. Even R&B, R&B has changed in a way where I have to monitor R& B songs before I let my kids enjoy it. It use to be real simple it use to be about love and such which it still is but the lyrics have just gone graphic kind of like how hip-hop has changed so has R&B. They start getting more and more graphic and sexual everyday with each song like how many times are you going to talk about booty how you want them to do this it’s really just about monitoring by knowing what’s being said when you have your kids or family around. There’s certain songs I wouldn’t play around my parents because of the content and they’re older than me it’s like I don’t want to hear this around my parents cause that’s inappropriate as well as my children.

What was it that drew you to rap and do you still have the same energy for it today as you did then?

What drew me to rap was the rhythm and the rhyme, the flow, the messages, the feeling that it gave me. You know it’s like poetry in motion it’s like when you hear a poem paints a picture so that picture can emotionally affect you. You can hear a record and feel happy you can hear a record and laugh and enjoy it you can hear a record and feel the pain of an artist. You can paint a picture with word so that’s what drew me and I enjoyed the stories I enjoyed laughing about what they were saying just like “Super Rhymes” this guy had like five stories on one 15 minute song. And he’s talking about stuff that is obviously not true but very creative indeed and comical and I enjoyed it. After learning that I wanted to emulate it and I started writing myself and when I was in school must have been second or third grade we started learning about poetry different forms of poetry haiku, limerick, syllable structure and I toyed around with that throughout school assignments and I would make poems to make the class laugh I was pretty much like not the class clown I was a pretty vibrant personality in school so for me it was yeah I’m gonna write this hot poem and make everybody trip out. That’s the type of stuff I would do and that was rhyming I took that and brought it to the beats in a rap format. Now do I feel the same, I don’t feel the same I do have the energy for it I do enjoy being able to affect people affect their lives in a positive way but what the game has come to as far as the music game it’s just a little discouraging that for one there’s no advancement if you have experience.

“If you’ve been an artist in this game for a certain period of time they don’t have the respect that other genres of music have.”

They don’t have any advancement they tend to more so shut you out at a certain point rather than build you up and make you even greater. I mean it can be done but it’s rare unless you go and delve into other industries. Let’s take Will Smith for example Will Smith had hits Will Smith had big hits “Summertime” you know Fresh Prince and “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and Will had to make his fame and fortune on television and on the silver screen. Because after a certain period of time the music that you’re making is not as widely accepted people consider you old or he’s old school he’s this he’s that.

“And rock and roll and other genres of music R&B you don’t see people saying yeah Prince is old he’s done or you don’t see Prince come to an event or function and he’s standing outside because he has to wait on a decision if he can come in free.”

It’s like they don’t have that respect in this industry you should already know who’s who you should already have the respect and acknowledge the leaders there’s no room for advancement we’re not getting executive positions at labels some of us are don’t get me wrong but not enough too few and far between. I mean with all the experience these artists have had 20, 30 years on the grind they should by right by the laws of human nature they should all be on top of the game in some way. They have that tenure they should be guiding these new artists. They should be leading them they should be mentoring them. When these new artists don’t want to hear it they just want their money that old shit is dead ‘We don’t want to hear that old school shit’ it’s just like that type of mentality you know you’re supposed to look up to these people. These are the Michael Jacksons these are the Patti Labelles these are the artists that have precedence they’ve enabled you to come into this industry and make the type of money you’re making. It’s reverse in the hip-hop culture if you’re old you’re not viable anymore. They need to address that there needs to be some type of forum by the most influential people and it really needs to be brought to the attention of everyone look we’re not respecting ourselves as a culture and if you can’t respect yourselves how you expect anyone else to respect you or your culture. I mean if we had those artists and people of experience in position or in place we may have better artists out right now you may have messages and positive reinforcement.

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We as artists used to be conscious of what we said we use to not take it in certain directions because it wasn’t right. Nowadays they encourage that it’s like the dirty version of everything. We just need to stand up as a culture we’re not controlling anything we don’t own anything. Only now most recently in this era with the internet have we had the opportunity to step-up more. Without the internet we’d still be stuck to these majors that are making all the decisions. Even the artists that say they own their label they don’t own nothing they’re under an umbrella a subsidiary of a parent company who’s the subsidiary of another parent company. At the end of the day you follow the trail all the way up you might be under a company that the top of the food chain does something totally different it may be into oil, arms or selling weapons. You don’t know what the hell your so-called record label parent company is affiliated with it’s the same thing like with BET. We used to own BET and we sold it now it’s owned by Viacom and they controlling MTV and VH1 and everything else. So that’s pretty much to me similar to a monopoly where there’s no variables there’s one company controlling everything. You call it BET but now it doesn’t mean it’s not just Black Entertainment Television it’s just programming for us. They’re not showing or programming with any positive reinforcement a lot of these shows especially the reality shows and content are really just degrading making us look stupid.

“They got this NBA Wives what the hell is that? Who put that on the air? That is doing nothing but putting negative imagery and reinforcing stereotypes to our men and women.”

It’s giving women a false impression of certain things. It is a real situation for some but not for everyone there’s a very small percentage in that situation. So by you putting that out you’re planting that into the minds of kids it’s kind of like a Lil’ Kim effect. You know you got Lil’ Kim she is portraying images that is turning our young women into less than women. They think it’s all about the money and sexual acts making a name for themselves in that way and that’s terrible.

It sounds like you’re saying we have to take our culture back and that if the younger artists have no respect for the elders they are setting up their own shelf life.

We have to.

Who is Special Ed listening to in contemporary hip-hop?

Special Ed does not own any albums from any artists. I do not have one complete album from any artist. I listen to what comes across the table what someone may be playing in a car. What they play in the club. And for me that’s more market research than anything because when I go to a club that is supposed to exemplify the culture what is really popping on the street what is really good what the people are reacting to I look I see what the reactions are I see what the feedback is just by going to a club. So I know what’s hot in that market because there’s different markets and every market has its own kind of rotation of music. For instance, maybe Jay-Z is probably one of the biggest artists today but he’s not on rotation in every market. In New York they may play him all day long and night but in other markets you hear other things you hear other artists. You may hear Rick Ross in another market all day and night because of where you are the type of music they like in that market and what the radio station wants to push who they support. It’s politics, as well you know there’s labels involved. They push the marketing dollars behind them the PR they put into it there’s a lot of factors involved. But I just listen to everything whatever I can hear I hear. I really don’t have the time to sit down and listen to someone’s album I just don’t have that type of time. That may take an hour but if I’m in a car driving someone pops in an album by all means I’ll listen to it.

“I’m not biased to any music just a matter of time and time management. I’d rather manage my time making music than sitting there listening I really enjoy making music.”

But I do listen and sometimes radio when I’m in my car it’s silent I’m one of those silent drivers. I want no noise in my head. Because more than likely when I stop the car and get out I’m walking into a music environment whether it be a club, a venue, a concert or studio including my own. So I may be on my way to my studio I know I will hear music, music will be playing all night.