Creature of Rebelmatic: The Patriarch of NYC's Hip-Hop Underground
Opening for Kool AD this Thursday night at Webster Hall is hip-hop-infused punk outfit Rebelmatic, a group fronted by MC and DIY-innovator Creature, a face familiar to anyone who's ever even walked near a hip-hop event in New York City in the past two decades. From his '90s output with his group Triflicts to his early-2000s appearances on records with everyone from MF Doom to Jin to selling his own albums featuring Slug of Atmosphere and Prefuse 73 hand-to-hand from his "office" just outside Fatbeats, encountering Creature has become a rite of passage for fans invested in New York's hip-hop scene. Currently balancing both Rebelmatic and his solo hip-hop work, as well as the recent announcement of The Triflicts recording again and putting out their unreleased demos this summer on France's Sergent Records, he's a busy guy. We spoke to Creature about his 20 years of pretty much doing everything.
Ventiko Creature (Top) and Rebelmatic
See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time: The Complete List
You were born in Harlem but raised in Corona, Queens. Do you recall your first exposure to hip-hop?
The first exposure that I remember, outside of hearing "The Message" on boomboxes and stuff, that really gravitated to me was hearing Run-DMC's "Sucker MCs." I remember going to the pool and someone had it on a boombox. Seeing everyone gravitate toward that song and knowing Run-DMC were from Queens, that made it a big deal. I heard it and was like "Oh, OK. This is what they're doing."
How did The Triflicts first come together and then link up with The Beatnuts?
Triflicts came together from me and my partner Buc Live going to high school together. I went to GED school in Corona, and I met Gab Gatcha. He heard me rhyming to some girl in the lobby, and we all got together in '91. The Beatnuts are from around our neighborhood, so from 91-93 we started making demos and getting better at writing songs together. Around '93-'94 we met Juju of the Beatnuts, and our manager at the time, J.B., who grew up with Juju. He had a direct relationship with him, and we had [a reputation] in the neighborhood as kids who could rhyme [so] by '94 we got a deal with 4th and Broadway/Island. Gab made his debut on the first Beatnuts album and mentioned Triflicts, and that's what set-off The Triflicts on record.
How did Hydra Records come into play?
After Island didn't put out our single, J.B. and Juju had a relationship with Jerry at Hydra and [told us] that Jerry wanted to put out some of our stuff. We recorded new stuff with Juju, and that wound up being the "Genuine"/ "Don't Make Me Try" single. It came out in like '96.
What was it like putting out a single in that era right before the underground-independent NYC underground's changing of the guard?
It was huge. The hugest thing for us was getting on Stretch and Bobbito. They played our 4th and Broadway demo first, "I'm Terror," and then they played "Genuine" and, for us to be up there, that was as big as getting signed. To be up there and being able to rap up there, that was it. Having a single out then, that was everything. That was big. This was a period where only a select few recorded demos, so if you had something tangible, you were a part of history. Even if you never made anything else, having a vinyl was being a part of history, a contribution to hip-hop. Hot 97 played our stuff too in a song battle against Goodie Mob. I love Goodie Mob, and Goodie Mob won, but Tempestt Bledsoe was like "I like Goodie Mob, but I want to give it to Triflicts." It was so weird to hear our name on the radio, but it was huge.
But you only put out the one single as Triflicts, right?
What happened to us was, Gab came out with a solo record in '97 on Hydra. They wanted us to do another single, but we didn't want to do it. Buc had stopped rhyming, the direction was different at that point. I didn't have the vision to see it would make sense to do something. I just kind of kept putting money in my pocket and Gab wound up doing a Beatnuts produced single in '97 and got locked up for a while. He did seven out of ten years. I kept doing solo stuff and wound up on the first X-Ecutioners album. Around that time I linked up with Rob Sonic, Sonic Sum and Mike Ladd, people like that. That was my next collective, Sky Pimps. That was the late 90s, rhyming in cyphers in the downtown clubs. Cultivating stuff, and around the first Sonic Sum album was how I met El-P, Sole and Antipop Consortum. From the Triflicts, I went into a different kind of scene. I was on the Infesticons record and then I wrote a hook on the Jin record in '03. My cousin was around Ruff Ryderz and stuff, and so I was around at the right place at the right time, I wrote a hook and it wound up being the single.