Break of Dawn: An Interview with Doc Ice

Introducing 'Break of Dawn,' Chris Daly's interview series with the original pioneers of hip-hop.
By    September 14, 2017

doc

The freaks are all over Chris Daly like white on rice. 

In 1988, KRS-ONE wrote:

Rap is still an art, and no one’s from the Old School
‘Cuz rap is still a brand-new tool
I say no one’s from the Old School ‘cuz rap on a whole
Isn’t even twenty years old
Fifty years down the line, you can start this
‘Cuz We’ll be the Old School artists

We’ll see what the state of hip-hop specifically and music in general looks like in another couple of decades, but I think it’s safe to say that the hip-hop genre has already exceeded the wildest dreams of most of its original adherents and participants. If we look to August 11, 1973 and Kool Herc’s birthday bash block party as the start of it all, then hip-hop has outlasted a lot of popular musical genres (remember when hair metal was a thing?), marriages, and professional sports franchises.

As rap moves further “down the line,” it becomes more and more important that fans take a moment to acknowledge the genre’s roots and originators, lest we collectively forget what got us where we are today. Quite frankly, a world that doesn’t remember the likes of anyone from Dana Dane to Big Daddy Kane is not necessarily a world in which I want to live. So, until the Mother Ship arrives to take us to the next level, Passion of the Weiss will be bringing you, Break of Dawn, an on-going interview series with some of the originators of hip-hop. Up first:

Doc Ice (Fred Reeves)

While his name may not ring immediate bells to semi-casual hip-hop heads, it only takes a passing glance at Doc Ice’s resume to realize he is rap royalty. A member of such seminal groups as Whodini and U.T.F.O., Doc Ice’s bonafides are unimpeachable. The young Fred Reeves first entered the national conscious not for his fire spitting abilities, but for his moves on the dance floor. Operating then as the Keystone Dancers along with the Kangol Kid, the duo won the dance portion of the now legendary Spring of 1983 Radio City Music Hall talent contest that also spawned the Fat Boys and was later immortalized in 1985’s Krush Groove (though the dance portion of the movie was left on the cutting room floor, according to Ice).

Following what can only be described as a series of simultaneously entertaining and uncomfortable appearances on the essentially exclusive white hosted talk show circuit, Doc and Kangol took on the role of back-up dancers for Whodini, the seminal group responsible for such classics as “Freaks Come Out at Night,” “Big Mouth” and “Friends,” who also happened to count Ice’s brother, Jalil Hutchins, as a member. It should be noted this was one of the first rap acts to incorporate this fourth element of hip-hop.  

Adding the Educated Rapper and Mix Master Ice (who were in a group of their own at the time), the now quartet formed U.T.F.O. (UnTouchable Force Organization), hooking up with ’80s production wizards (and House Party villains) Full Force for a successful run that culminated in the all-time classic, “Roxanne, Roxanne” (#84 on VH-1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop). Seemingly by accident, he was partially responsible for the creation of the “dis track,” when the joint spawned an entire sub-genre of its own response records, incidentally launching Roxanne Shante to stardom of her own (we hope to chat with the Lady Devastator for a future BOD.)

Additional hits followed, including “Leader of the Pack,” “Split Personality,” and “Ya Cold Wanna Be with Me,” though none quite reached the same level of notoriety. Ice eventually went solo, with a career that spawned hits of his own, including “Love Jones,” “Word to the Wise,” and the #6 chart topping Dino collaboration, “Romeo.”

Today, Ice tours with Whodini, proving that the freaks continue to come out at night. Founding U.T.F.O. member Educated Rapper passed recently following a courageous battle with cancer, which brought the original bandmates back together again for the first time in a while. One can only hope the remaining members will bury any past grievances and get together again to remind folks of how things should be done.

With the loss of his brother in arms still heavy on his heart and in his mind, Ice took some time out of his busy schedule to break down his thoughts on everything from the importance of remembering where hip-hop started to how old school went from an insult to a tag everybody wants to wear these days.


I was speaking with a younger reporter named Dana recently, and I called her, “rapper Dana Dane with the fame,” and she looked at me like I had two heads. She explained, “that’s before my time. If it’s pre-Biggie, I don’t know it.” I decided that was unacceptable, so I’m here to speak to cats like you to talk about the founders of the game. Tell me what you think about the origins of hip-hop and why they’re important.


Doc Ice: I think you could even look at it like this, we call it the House of Hip Hop, okay? And in the House of Hip Hop, you want to know who the bricks are in the House of Hip Hop. Then you want to know who’s the ground, who’s the foundation in the House of Hip Hop. And then you want to know who’s living in Hip Hop’s House now, because these people should know that the house that they are living in, is built by some bona fide artists that allows the way to be paved for these new artists that people know today.

It’s a blessing that you know these artists but if you don’t know the history of it, then it really means nothing to you. It should mean something to you because you should know where the rise is from and how hard it was to get here. And we can do that to just life in general. When we talk about where we come from as a people, how hard certain black people had to fight, along with certain white people, to fight for rights to get where we are.

So, if you know the leaders of today, you should know who helped them to be able to speak like they are speaking, to be free at that point like they’re free, and what they went through to make this a bona fide respectable music or political atmosphere.


Let’s talk about your family background—brothers and sisters, what did your family do, etc.?


Doc Ice: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I come from eight brothers and sisters; five boys, three girls and a host of step-brothers and sisters but we don’t call each other step because of how close we were growing up. Growing up, the neighborhood thing was the neighborhood thing. Girls jumped double dutch. The boys played skelly, ran, catch and kiss, rode bikes, we just did everything we could do to be occupied outside because when we were growing up, we had no video games to keep us locked in.

The only video games were the video games in the stores, the candy stores, the arcades. King’s Plaza is a big place here in Brooklyn where they would have arcades in different areas so that would be the fun time. But if you didn’t have money to travel to those places, you had to make do with what was around you. So as time progressed, as we moved on, they would have block parties and when they would have block parties, the DJ would come up, play the music, and before long, people start rapping on the microphone, and the DJ was doing it first, but then the rappers started trying to figure out how to rhythmically get down.

And it became a strong epidemic, so to speak, that everybody wanted to be down and get on the mic and be heard and express themselves and kick their lyrics.

Back then what I remember was a group called Five Percenters, they was into worshipping the word, and they called it the Nation Islam and whatever. They were some of the first people I heard on mics, and then came a group called The Supreme Team, and they blew really big. You might remember one of their big hits was, “Two buffalo girls going ‘round the outside.”

That was The Supreme Team, and they was in the neighborhood doing their thing so then groups started forming. We were hearing about the groups up in The Bronx, as well as the groups in Brooklyn, so we were just trying to make our way to figure out how to make ourselves known within the neighborhood. So here I go, I’m living in Flat Bush at the time of this music starting to grow, then my mom moved to East Flat Bush.

When she moved to East Flat Bush, because we was like gypsies, my mom was dancing a little bit of everywhere but we moved up to East Flat Bush, that’s when I met up with The Kangol Kids. In time, we met up with Educated Rapper, you guys know about him.

We met up with him and Mix Master Ice, who were a group already, and me and Kangol, we came to be down with the group. First it was supposed to be a battle, but to make a long story short, it turned into that. We decided to get together. Kangol was going to school with Full Force, some of the members of Full Force. B-Fine from Full Force, and once Kangol met him, he heard about the music they were doing, they wanted dancers, and they wanted Kangol to dance with one of their family members, and Kangol was like, “No, I got a partner.” He was talking about me.

Once they met me, it turned into us dancing and rolling with them, in turn meeting the blackest Jew I knew, his name was Steve Salem. He became my manager. He was Full Force’s manager, and he just took us so many places. He was like, “You going to the hood, and he’s going—” “How do you know about this?” He was gravitating to that Hip Hop scene and that music scene, really strong. So, once we got with them, we were dancing with them for a while, and then this dance contest came into effect later, Fat Boys was a part of and myself and Kangol we were calling ourselves The Keystones at the time, we were part of that.


Wasn’t that part of the plot of Krush Groove?


Doc Ice: We were supposed to be in that movie Krush Groove, but for whatever reasons, we filmed the part, and we ended up on the floor, and all we heard was a small portion of our record in Krush Groove but it was no love at all, but we were a part of that because we was a part of that growth. If you go back and check the stats, Kangol and I, we were called The Keystone dancers. We came in first for the dance at Radio Music City Hall, and the Fat Boys came in first for the rap, and that’s when we locked in with Whodini.

We met with my brother, Jalil. He was like, “You all want to come on tour with us?” We was like, “Yes, for sure.” Because they (contest organizers) wanted to give us a scholarship to go to a dance school, and we was like, “Why would we want to go to a dance school when we just showed you all a new dance? we could be teaching people.” So, we forfeited that, and we went on tour with Whodini. While we were on tour with Whodini, Full Force was doing production with us in the making of what we was working at. So after, we went with Whodini and me, had the “Haunted House of Rock,” and their first song was “Magic’s Wand,” representing for Mr. Magic.

From there, we just started to grow and everything else became history because next thing you know, here comes a “Haunted House Of Rock,” “Magic’s Wand,” “Freaks Come Out At Night,” “Five Minutes Of Funk,” “One Laugh,” “Friends,” “Big Mouth,” “Roxanne Roxanne,” and that would’ve for UTFO, “Bite It,” “Leader of the Pack,” we just started getting hits and then the first Fresh Face tour took off, and hip hop became a phenomenon.


“Roxanne Roxanne” was arguably the high watermark, the thing that most people talk about but you had other hits than that. That was the B side, was it not?


Doc Ice: It was definitely the B side, the A side was a song called, “Hanging Out,” and if you get a chance to listen to this album that Kangol put out it’s called, UTFO Hits. And on that album, you will hear different artists, especially Red Alert, talk about where they were, what they did, and what was going on in their life when, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” came out because it was such a phenomenon when it came out. Red Alert was the first person who said, what I was telling you that my manager Steve Salem who passed away, he brought the song to Red and he told Red, “Look, you’ve got to play the A side”.

Red said he took it home, he listened to it, he came back to him he said, “Nah, it’s the B side.” He said, “That means now you got to play the A side.” He said, “No, it’s the B side.” And he was like, “You got to play the A side.” He said, “No, I’m going to play the B side”. And he said the B side won [laughs] because everywhere we went, we knew DJs had that mark. They’ll take a record—and that’s why we did the B side just to back ourselves up to CYA. We did the B side just in case, but we didn’t think it was going to be what it was. That wasn’t our thought, it turned out to be so huge nobody even knows there was an A side.


When did you guys realize that it had blown?


Doc Ice: This is when we knew. We were still touring with Whodini when we had the demo 12 inch, so when we would go to radio stations because that’s when we were hitting radio stations heavy, we got a radio station, and I would beg my brother, “Can we tell the DJ we got the record?” He goes, “Guys.” So, we would be like, “Hey man, we got a new record out.” And the DJ would be like, “What?”

They were so loving it, “Give it to me. Any cursing?” We go, “No cursing.” They played the record, phones lit up crazy every single time they played the record. All through the South, the phones started lighting up like crazy, and that’s when we knew because when we got back home, the buzz was on. The buzz was on because for the first time you heard three guys who usually would be—if some are rappers, they would brag on themselves about how they had everything, all the girls, this was the first record that talked about a girl so fine but nobody could get her.

It was a switch, it became a hip-hop soap opera, and it made people interested, and it made people want to respond, hence you had Roxanne Shante respond, Roxanne for events then the Real Roxanne, your bigger Roxanne, and then it went hay wire.


You had what I thought were some interesting comments on what you thought about the term old school, and I’ve wondered if you might be able to share your thoughts on that?


Doc Ice: Definitely. When that term came, it never came as a blessing to us, like a hook up, like some somebody was trying to represent. You would say, “Here’s my man, he old school.” That’s now how it came. The first time I encountered it physically, I was at a comedy club, and these kids, they would be at the comedy club, and the dudes in the comedy club, they was like, I think it was my boy, Talent, they was like, “Yo, we got that guy in the house, UTFO.” Everybody giving me love, except these three artists in the front.

He’s talking about, “You old school, yes, that thing’s old school.” I was like, “For real?” He was like, “Yes man, they acting like they can handle you”. So, they was instigating the battle. I was like, “Okay.” And he was like, “Doubt you got some time to come down here,’ I said, “But you all are doing the comedy thing.” They stopped the comedy thing, and they said, “No, Doc, if you’re ready, come down here and represent and show them what old school really is.” So, I came down there, and I ripped into all three of them, still weird.

The comics, we was going crazy because one—I’ll give you one guy, he started to get ready to rap and his voice start cracking, he was nervous, so they grabbed the mic and said, “Wait Doc, we got this one. First off, before you battle an old school cat like that, you got to get out of puberty.” And they all ran all over the place.

So, I was like, “Yo, am I right?” I told them, I said, “I don’t want no beats.” I said, “I just want you to hear this lyrically, so we can see who’s old school.” I knew that people looked at us like that, so I always would stay on my writing game, just in case I encountered an audience like that, but that is the way they viewed us, “Oh, that’s old school, that’s like my mom’s music.” That’s how they did it until the term became cool.

When the term became cool, it became cool because people wanted to seem like they were so mature, that they was old school like I’ve been there. It became cool to say, “You’ve been there.” So that’s when it changed over from that negative connotation. Yes, now it’s positive, but that is the way they viewed us when they heard any artist come from our era to say, “Oh, they old school.” So, I never liked it when I first heard it, I thought it was a disrespect.


Unfortunately, you had a member of the band passed. And from what I’ve seen on Twitter, everybody was in the room when that happened?


Doc Ice: Oh man, yes.


Anybody who loses somebody knows how hard that can be. Is there anything you’d like to say about that? It’s funny what tragedy can do to bring people together. Did having everybody in the room, did it spark anything? Can we maybe say goodbye to the remaining UTFO tour, or part of a package deal or something like that in the future? Were there talks?


Doc Ice: There wasn’t talk because of the timing. What had happened was, Mix Master, he came first, he lives in Ohio, and he found out through social media, and he jumped on the first thing smoking here because he heard how serious it was, and he called me, then he called Kangol, and that’s how we met up at the hospital. We sat with him for a little, then his cousin was also there. Me, Mix Master, Kangol and the Educated Rapper’s cousin.

We was all in the room, and we closed the door, and they was like, “Let’s just say a prayer.” So, Mix Master was praying, and as we praying, we looking at him, and we praying, he opens both his eyes, he looks at us, and he smiles out the right side of his mouth, he shows us his teeth. And I’m saying he was on his death bed then because they said the only thing keeping him alive was the respirator and his heart.

They couldn’t even give him dialysis he was so weak. So, when he did that, we stopped, we said, “E.” We started talking because it shocked us, but then he got back to the weakness, you could see it just overpowering him. So, we came out, and I said “Mix,” because we stayed a few hours, I said, “Take the wife back home, and I’ll try to come back to meet up with you here tomorrow.” And he was like, “All right.” I said, “Where are you going to stay?” He said, “I’m staying right here.” He stayed in that hospital until he passed.

He did not leave, he stayed in there from the Thursday when he came, and he passed on Saturday. We didn’t get a chance to talk about if we would do something because we didn’t have the time to do so, but I wouldn’t put a doubt on anything because anything is possible. So, we just leave it in the Creator’s hands to open the door for that, to where we could see eye-to-eye and be at peace with our decision that we made.