The year: 1989. The album: Youngest in Charge. That was when the world was first introduced to a young rapper at the ripe age of 16 out of New York named Special Ed. With hits under his belt such as “I Got it Made” and “I’m the Magnificent,” Special Ed’s creative metaphors were unlike no other.
Soultrain.com caught up with Special Ed to discuss his plans for a new album and his views on hip hop today.
Soul Train: Where have you been over the past few years?
Special Ed: I’ve been working. I’ve been doing shows all over the country; I’ve been doing some recording as well. I’ve been doing some promoting and marketing, some events, doing some production, really a little of everything. I’m pretty well rounded in the industry at this point. I don’t do just one thing anymore.
Soul Train: Do you still have your own label and your studio?
Special Ed: Oh yes, I have all of the above. My studio is private, I use it myself–I don’t do sessions or public rental. I have still have Semi Records, LLC. I put all my music out on that label.
Soul Train: Some fans have been trying to find a lot of your old school music, because it seems at one point it just vanished from the internet. What happened?
Special Ed: It’s online now, on iTunes, CD Baby, anywhere digitally, it’s there now. What happened was the label (Arista) went out of business and they sold the catalogue. I think it went from Arista to Sony. They had to destroy the original product in stock because it had the Profile label on it–it’s a business thing that they do. They did reissue the Best of Special Ed a couple years ago, so those things are definitely available online.
Soul Train: It seems these days that everyone has a “studio” in their home, whether it’s just their computer or an actual studio. Do you think this easy access is hurting or helping the music industry?
Special Ed: I think it’s a little of both. I think it will help weed out the talent. We used to spend most of our time trying to find a producer or a studio just to display our talents. Now people can do it at home on their laptops, they can make a beat, etc. Now days, you can get to the point faster, we can kind of cut to the chase and get to the talent and away from the talking. Anybody can talk about how good they are and what they can do but you actually have to show and prove. The technology gives all the talent out there a chance to display those talents easily.
Soul Train: How will it hurt?
Special Ed: It can over-saturate the market. Everyone’s social networking page has music, and it’s a lot of product to sort out to see what is original and what isn’t. There’s a lot of copying, a lot of emulating, and a lot of cloning going on.
Soul Train: Some say that hip-hop is to blame for the decline of R&B music. Do you think hip-hop is pushing R&B out the door?
Special Ed: No, I don’t think so; I think R&B is killing itself. Well, because they aren’t making pure R&B anymore. If they are, then they are trying to be more hard edged, making it more risqué and becoming more graphic. It’s no longer subtle, soothing sounds of love; it’s just graphic, grinding sexual content now. So that’s where they are killing themselves, they aren’t making music like they used to, that’s what the problem is. People have to think about their kids listening to it.
Soul Train: Do you think that hip-hop is more or less respected today?
Special Ed: I think that it’s more respected corporate-wise because it’s making millions of dollars. I think a lot of our young people don’t have the respect for hip-hop that they should; if they did they wouldn’t put out some of stuff they put out and do some of the things they do. It’s embarrassing as a people and as a culture.
Soul Train: What’s the difference in the music industry in the 1990s versus now?
Special Ed: Back then when we made hip-hop we made it with a conscience, now it’s done without one. It’s made to provoke, made to insult, made to demean and diminish our values, defame our character, and pigeon hole us in stereotypes.
Soul Train: Who do you listen to?
Special Ed: I listen to everything. On my own, I listen to R&B and some hip-hop, but mostly old school R&B like Prince, New Edition, and Rick James that type of music.
Soul Train: In Charlotte, you created an event centered on old school hip hop. What prompted that?
Special Ed: I discovered that I don’t like going out in Charlotte. I don’t like the music that they play all night, and I don’t even know what that music is. I stopped going out and I wanted to give back something from where I live. I think that there are people out there that want the same things I want. They want a mature audience that wants to hear some old school R&B, and some hip-hop and some reggae. They want to hear a variety not just one type. So I decided to put it together for the sake of the culture.
Soul Train: Is the event exclusive for the Charlotte area?
Special Ed: No, we do the event in other places. It depends on the need, or demand for it, or even the request. I just decided to do it in Charlotte, because people want to go out on Friday nights. I know I do!(laughs) Sometimes, I think I don’t have anywhere to go, and I think about all the places that do exist and I still don’t have anywhere to go. So that’s why I decided to do it.
Soul Train: So how does this work, you bring in various DJs and hip-hop artists to host these events?
Special Ed: I’ll be bringing in different personalities to host or DJ. There are a lot of people that grew up listening to them and never got the opportunity to meet or see them, so this is their opportunity. What kind of disappoints me, is when we lose some of our artists and icons and we never have the chance to bond with them or see them perform or in the human aspect and only see them on TV. This is my opportunity to introduce them on a personal level and bring them to the people. Most of them have been in the industry for quite some time so they are more apt to respond and socialize. They are very outgoing and don’t seclude themselves in a corner.
Soul Train: What’s your favorite Special Ed song?
Special Ed: I’m biased. I have a lot of them. I love myself.
Soul Train: As well as you should! (laughs)
Special Ed: (laughs) I guess if I had to say, it’d be some of the lesser known songs, which would be my newer ones. I think because I put a lot of my current energies and truths in them that is why I like those songs. A lot of my older material was hyped up and I was young and was in a different frame of mind. Now is the experienced me on these newer songs that can speak from experience.
Soul Train: What’s next for Special Ed?
Special Ed: Just continuing to do events, shows, some recording, new music and I also want to start introducing new artists to the world. My album is called The Specialist and I don’t have a tentative release date yet, but I am in the process of mixing now.
Soul Train: What do you think the African American community can learn from the deaths of some of our icons and legends such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston?
Special Ed: I think we can learn something definitely. We can learn how real life is and how stardom and how being a celebrity has an effect on human beings. Both Michael and Whitney were famous, but nonetheless they were still human, they bleed like everyone else bleeds. So for them to have to resort to drugs or even strong medicines to cope with life or deal with things, even though they were looked at as icons, it’s an eye-opener. You may think everything is peachy keen, but the reality of it is people live difficult lives. It’s not easy living under a microscope, dealing with lawsuits among other things, everyone wants to bring you down, and tear you down when you’re up there. I think we should learn not to turn to substance abuse to cope with things and they shorten your life. Another lesson is to watch the people around you, because to some you’re worth more dead. So there is a lot to be learned from their deaths.
Soul Train: Do you have any memories of Soul Train?
Special Ed: Soul Train was what we based our culture on. We looked to Soul Train to see where we were supposed to be fashion wise, dancing, and entertainment wise, watching the different artists perform. I used to love to watch the dancers and see the different characters. I loved the Soul Train line; it was always cool to see everyone’s creativity. I used to wait for certain cats like the pop lockers or the Asian chick with the long hair down to her waist. We all grew up and identified directly with Soul Train. There’s not a generation that doesn’t miss Soul Train and its significance to our culture. Soul Train had a full audience of people dancing around, you get to see the outfits, and some of the women had on hot outfits (laughs). Of course, we couldn’t wait to see the new dances that came out, so I think all that indirectly dictated our culture.
Soul Train: What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
Special Ed: Just know the business of it; know what you’re entitled to. I think you should make music as if your mother is listening or your kids, grandmother, and have some respect for your craft and don’t just disrespect men and women, make music that’s going to build someone up and inspire someone.
Follow Special Ed on Twitter @SpecialEd.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.