Main Source, the seminal ’90s New York/Toronto hip-hop collective, is having a Cinderella story many believe can’t happen anymore. Two decades removed from the original release of their landmark debut album Breaking Atoms — which Vinyl Me, Please reissued — the group has experienced a new wave of acclaim from generations past and present. Cratediggers, heads and blog kids alike have flocked to the Main Source catalog for the soulful nostalgia and no-nonsense street tales; since the Breaking Atoms rerelease, Main Source has headlined in the U.S. and toured Europe extensively off the strength of a second chance.
Now, VMP’s reissuing Fuck What You Think: a darker, brasher record that bites and fights to silence its critics in the face of label pushbacks and dissent over new personnel. The album dropped in 1994, a whisper in the golden wind, while its major single “What You Need” went on to have its bassline lifted for the smash hit “Human Nature” by Madonna. And like Nas’ debut appearance on “Live at the Barbecue,” Fuck What You Think features the LOX’s debut appearance on “Set It Off.” With the New York underground bubbling with the rugged East Coast sound permeating worldwide — Griselda Records, CRIMEAPPLE and Mach-Hommy to name a few — soul is back, the legends remain and the game’s primed for more of the Main Source.
There’s a tone shift from Breaking Atoms where it felt like Main Source had something to prove, but it definitely left its imprint, left its mark. Fuck What You Think felt very like, “Fuck y’all, fuck everybody, I proved it already, y’all thought I didn’t have the beats like that, y’all thought I was tryna just replace somebody but it’s fuck y’all.”
K-Cut: I’m not into politics, you know what I mean? Usually the hip-hop game is like, “This person has a beef with that person,” and for me, it wasn’t about having a beef, it was about music. So, we just wanted to just do music and put our music out there and get everybody to listen to it. Do you know what I mean? So it never was a thing of politicking with Large Pro, or like, “We’re gonna prove Large Pro wrong.” It was all about, “Yo, Mike had skills from day one, and I produce; we just want people to listen to what we’ve been holdin’ in for a minute,” you know what I mean? It’s about showing the art, the craft, who you are as an artist and who you are as a producer, and let the world know. That’s what I think Main Source is about: It’s not about who’s the best.
Within the circle — meaning Large Pro, K-Cut, Mikey D, Sir Scratch — we’ve all worked with numerous different A-list artists, so for us, it’s all about [what sound we’re producing]. [Our engineer] Paul C left us his legacy in terms of how he showed us to make music. So for us, we all know how to produce, so we all have our fingers in a lot of things in the industry that Paul C left for us. We’re a group that are really artistic and it’s about the music.
Mikey D: Let me elaborate just a little bit and build on that. There was always a lot of comparison between the two albums, but what people failed to understand is, Large Professor and myself are two different caliber-type rappers. Large Professor writes dope, dope, dope, dope songs; me myself, if you listen to the second album, I’m more of an aggressor, because I’m naturally a battle rapper. So I came across a little stronger because that’s my element. And what a lot of people don’t understand also about the second album: We were racing against the clock, so we really didn’t have a lot of time to sit back and marinate and take our time. We were really doin’ work, and there was no time to breathe. It was just spontaneous, you know, it was insane. The difference between Large Professor and myself: We’re two different calibers, I could never step in his shoes or try to replace him, so that was never the intention.
What has the response been like on y’all end and y’all careers ever since Vinyl Me, Please stepped in and reissued the first record — Breaking Atoms — and now are reissuing the second — Fuck What You Think — what are the new fans coming to you and saying? How are the older folks who connected with you those decades ago coming back around to the material now, how is this music landing now when it’s in the street?
K-Cut: I’m getting like DMs every single day talking about “Hey, listen, the first album is amazing.” People tell me the second album is fucking brilliant. Back in the day when we did Fuck What You Think, the record actually didn’t come out, [the label] held the record back. They re-released it a couple years back, so a lot of people are catching onto it. A lot of people in Europe, when I was up there last year, they was like, “Yo, where’s Mikey D? When are you doin’ that Fuck What You Think album? It’s incredible, it’s brilliant.” So we got fans of both albums, which is so fucking amazing, and that makes me [very] happy because we accomplished what we wanted to do [with] the music. Vinyl Me, Please re-releasing Breaking Atoms gave it a new light or new life, you know what I’m sayin’? And now that we’re doing the second album, it’s another new light. For the old people that missed it — and the new people that are catching onto it — everybody is like, “Yo, where was this record?” It’s almost like one of those obscure psychedelic records that we find and it’s just like, “Oh, shit, this is crazy!” For me, Vinyl Me, Please is like the best company ever, because they reach a lot of people, and I'm happy with what they’re doing.
I know [for] folks from older generations of rap, the shelf life and the burn they get when they do newer efforts, it seems like there’s a way bigger pull and a way bigger response overseas. And most folks can still perform older work or re-released work overseas, and people take to it like it’s 2018 with these records from the ’90s. What do you think [makes that] overseas connection so strong and the response so potent?
K-Cut: Back in the ’90s, when I was a young kid and I was digging for records, I was trying to find the right sample. So you gotta think about it, in 2018, the kids that were my age… they’re digging back to see what was poppin’ back in the ’90s. So that’s one of the reasons the music is so popular, because the music back then had a different feeling. And that’s what [makes] people like, “Who’s involved with this Main Source?” or “What’s involved in this De La Soul?” and all of this stuff. People want to see what the history was, and when they see [it], they feel it. And that’s what gives us more life right now to be able to do what we’re doin’ because we got new fans that are diggin’, and they’re like, “Yo, we want to see this, we got curious, we wanna see this live.” And for the people that caught it back then, it’s just like, “Yo, we want it, too.” So whoever didn’t catch on is catching on now. So it’s just, like, full-circle; it goes back a while, like clothing. Nothing ever gets old, you could listen to old soul and it still feels good. And you have people trying to mimic old soul and putting out records and it feels good. People just want that history.
Using the show y’all did with Mass Appeal back in New York as a reference point, and the European tour that y’all have done before: Who’s in the crowd and how's the crowd responding to the music? Do you have older heads you got the younger heads, you have a blend of it? Do folks still know the lyrics? What do you see in a live environment?
K-Cut: It’s actually a blend. It’s a mixed crowd, man, and that’s the exciting thing about this. When we see mixed faces in terms of ages and stuff, it’s just like, wow, it just shows you how much we are appreciated and how much people really love what we’re doing. And we’ve been doing shows for the last year, and it’s been like, I can’t tell you there was ever any show that was not like a sold-out crowd. Every show that we’ve done has been a full, packed house. And that shows the love, and it shows how much people still care, and how much people do remember Main Source, and how much new people appreciate Main Source.
Mikey D: Me, personally, that’s my life. I’m basically on the outside looking in because remember, Breaking Atoms, I haven’t really been going overseas yet, I’m just waitin’ for my turn. But I’m watchin’, and it always makes me proud when I see my crew doing well. Each one of the shows being sold out and the crowds just lovin’ what’s goin’ on, it keeps me motivated. And as an MC, that’s like the best feelin’ in the world: when you can have a crowd rockin’, and recitin’ the lyrics with you, and it’s just an incredible feelin’, man.
K-Cut: Not to cut you guys off, but this is the reason why we wanted to re-put this second album out, too. I told Mike when I came back last year from the Breaking Atoms tour, I said, “Yo, people want Fuck What You Think,” so that’s why I went back to VMP and said, “Yo, we gotta put this out.” Because I was out there in Europe and people are askin’ about “What You Need.” I knew there was a market for the second album, so I just wanted to put this album out so we can travel as Main Source: Fuck What You Think on a European tour, and do U.S. shit just as well as we did with Breaking Atoms. I think, with Mikey, people really don’t understand when Mikey hits that stage, he’s a whole different fucking animal. Like, you are going to be fucking entertained with Mikey D. He is a beast when it comes to skills, freestylin’, off the top of the dome, the head, it’s just crazy. So, it was just like, I wanna get this record out so people can just see us on the road and let us do our thing because me and Mikey together? It’s unstoppable.
And we got a treat for New York City because it’s gonna be Mikey D, Large Pro and we’re doin’ both albums. So that’s a rarity: We’re doing both albums, Breaking Atoms and Fuck What You Think, at one show, as Main Source. November 27, Highline Ballroom.
**You can buy our exclusive edition of Main Source’s Fuck What You Think over here.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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