NEW YORK At D&D studios on Tuesday it was obvious that Big Daddy Kane is still fly like the Big Tymers.
Wearing a terrycloth red, white and gray Coogi short-sleeved shirt, gray jean shorts and throwback red and white Patrick Ewing Adidas, the man who called himself such nicknames as Dark Gable, Blackanova and the Prince of Darkness looked every bit the playa as he did back in the days. (Click for photos from the studio.)
But Tuesday wasn't all about how Kane looked. He wanted to make sure his teenage son, who was sitting down watching TV, was dipped in gear just as fresh as his dad's.
"He's going to the prom on Thursday," the proud papa said, pulling out a pair of shoes he'd just bought his child for the event. "He's got the Fendi suit. He's about to put the crocs on. We're gonna pour some apple cider in the Cristal bottles. We're gonna do it up."
Kane moved from NYC to Durham, North Carolina, where he spends most of his time when he's not in New York recording or out on the road touring, occasionally performing at the same concerts as such veterans as MC Lyte, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh and Whodini. But has he settled down?
"I'm me, man, I'm living the 'Best of Both Worlds Kells talk to em,' " he joshed about whether he's still every bit the ladies' man who once rivaled LL Cool J for rap's sexiest MC, before bursting into laughter. "Nah, let me stop."
Bringing his career to an end is something the 33-year-old said won't happen anytime soon. He may have dropped his first album in 1988, but Kane said he's just as hungry as some of the young whippersnappers who roam the rap world.
"We got a few party joints, but mainly a bunch of street flavor," he said of his still-in-production eighth album. "[The Alchemist] blessed me with three mean joints, DJ Premier gave me a hot joint, DJ Scratch gave me two hot ones. It's coming out real good."
Kane isn't worried about facing the stifling criticism that he suffered in the mid-'90s after he smoothed out his adored "Raw" stylings for collaborations with the likes of R&B legends Barry White and Alyson Williams (Kane even wore a sparkly white suit in the "For the Lover in You," video). Overseeing the project as executive producer is the Alchemist, the savant of searing soundscapes for street-entrenched MCs like Jadakiss, Mobb Deep and Ghostface Killah.
"I guess I would have to say that it was my fault for being ahead of my time," Kane said of his radio-friendly, R&B-influenced songs. "If I would have waited five more years, they would have looked at me the way they look at Puffy, because that's basically the sh-- he's doing.
"You gotta understand where that [criticism] was coming from," he added. "It was the type of situation where it was thug n-----s and underground rappers making those type of statements. It wasn't the chicks. We was still packing 10,000, 14,000-seat arenas with broads. It opened up a doorway in hip-hop. It gave a lot of other cats the opportunity to get radio play."
In his prime, Kane was the equivalent to what Jay-Z is today. He was from Brooklyn, charmingly arrogant ("If I fart on a record, trust me, it'll sound good," he once rapped), and could always back up his boasts with his wordplay. Kane could unleash a party record like "I Get the Job Done" or "Cause I Can Do It Right" to keep the club jumping all night, and drop a hardcore anthem like "Warm It Up, Kane" and "Ain't No Half-Steppin' " to keep the heads on the corner bopping.
If it seems Kane rubbed off a little on Jay, he most likely did. They used to roll thick back in the days. Before Jay dropped his debut LP, Reasonable Doubt, Kane gave him his first major introduction to the masses on "Show and Prove," which also co-starred O.D.B., among others.
"The Shirt Kings wanted me to meet Jaz-O" (see "Jaz-O Reminds World Where Jay-Z Got His Blueprint"), remembered Kane, whose flattop that ruled in '89 is now an Afro with a headband around it. "We did a tape together me, Jaz and Jay. I said, 'With all due respect, Jaz is nice, but the little skinny kid with him, bring him to me.' [Me and Jay are] cool but I could probably get in touch with George Bush first. He's a big dude."
Although Kane's not the biggest name in rap anymore, he said he's not to be pushed to the side like a senior citizen. Getting older just means getting better.
"Let's take the term 'old school,' " he explained. "If you call 'Rapper's Delight' an old-school record, I agree with you. If you call Sugar Hill Gang old school, I agree with you. Not because they came out in '79 or '80, but because in 2002, that's still the way Hank and Mike rhyme. Now if you call 'Ain't No Half-Steppin' ' or 'Raw' an old-school song, I agree with you. But if you call Big Daddy Kane an old-school artist, I disagree with you. 'Cause when I touch the mic now, 'The best/ Ah yes ...' I'm not doing that now. My music shows where I'm at and how I've grown."