The epic story of Tragedy Khadafi told by himself.

This epic story, told through the very words of its legendary protagonist himself, begins in an era when New York was afflicted by a tragic crack epidemic. He was growing up in the most desperate conditions and Hip-Hop, then, actually used to save lives. Before the dream of a career, it gave young kids the opportunity to express their art at 360°, from Rap to graffiti or dancing, without any means other than their own talent, their “hustle” and vision. The protagonist of this story was probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, he collaborated with the greatest NYC rap legends, from Marley Marl to Nas, Cormega and Mobb Deep. He inspired generations of street rappers for the years to come, he founded an independent label as a teenager in the late ‘80, when it still was quite impossible for a ghetto kid, he created immortal classics such as “Tragedy: Saga of a Intelligent Hoodlum”, “Against All Odds”, “Still Reportin’” or “The War Report” with CNN. He passed through the hell of ghettos’ trenches and through prisons to find his own way to Knowledge of self. Here you are the Tragedy Khadafi’s story told by himself.

It’s truly an honor for us to be able to ask some questions to a legend as you! Hearing your stories and watching the documentary “Tragedy: the story of Queensbridge”, your story begins in a real “tragic” context: you grew up without a father (killed very young), between extreme poverty and drug addiction problems among your family. Can you tell us what it was like for you to grow up on the streets of Queensbridge and New York when you were a kid?

You are looking at a different time. A different era. Things were a lot different than they are now. Back then crack was fairly new and the whole crack epidemic really destroyed a lot of communities. A lot of communities were destroyed and it affected a lot of people. So of course I wasn’t exempt from it and that made my struggle at the time a lot harder because it affected my moms and my family due to drug addiction, due to them being addicted. Which I’m not ashamed to admit, and talk about because I’m actually proud of my moms because she overcame a lot of those struggles. For a time it was real challenging. Real difficult. It seemed bleak. A future in music is something I dreamed about and held on to, but at the same time it’s like, it almost seemed impossible. Just as much as it was a dream and I believed in it. Equally it seemed impossible.

For me growing up in those times, and having to survive and live. And not just take care of myself but my family too. I’m the oldest of five. So I had a lot of responsibility on me, and what was going on with the crack epidemic was basically genocide. Chemical systematic genocide on the black and urban communities that trickled out to suburbia in a lot of ways.

It affected me because I sold it, used it, and obviously at a young age it caused me to stray and get scarred by the streets in a lot of different ways. So of course that affected my growth in music at times: because people would always say “Why didn’t Tragedy come out on The Symphony? Because I got locked up. I was in the streets.

So just as much as people would love my authenticity in music and my quote unquote ‘realness’ there was always a price for it. I always had one foot in music and the other in the streets and crime. And there’s a price for that. Also too, I know I am blessed because I was able to get through it and be influenced by a lot of great artists who at the time were not known, and famous, or influential, as they became more greater later. In the beginning of their careers they weren’t as influential. They weren’t that popular. They didn’t have the fame. So I got to see a lot of giants in Hip Hop in their early stages and share experiences with them and gain valuable lessons for music but not just music but for life.

There was a gift and curse about being in those times and being Tragedy in those times. I got to look at it for what it is and be grateful and know that I’m blessed because a lot of my people who I came up with… I don’t have day one because most of them got killed. Most of them died and got murdered.

Do you remember why and when you started to write your first raps and was Intelligent Hoodlum your first rap name or did you also have another name before ?

I was in the second grade and I bought my first record from Top Ten Records which was the local record store in Queensbridge. They sold penny candies and ’45s and 12 inches and they sold weed in the back. I bought Spoonie G ‘Love Rap’ and I had a Micky Mouse turntable. I saved up my money from packing bags and I bought that record and I played that shit until I basically couldn’t play it anymore. I memorized where he took breaths at. I memorized every ad lib.  Every drop. Every single sound within the track. His cadence. Everything. Once I memorized that and mastered that, I attempted to write my first rhyme, which I still remember.

When I wrote my first rhyme, my name was actually Jade Ski. That was my first rap name. So Intelligent Hoodlum wasn’t my first name or my first record. My first record I made was “Go Queensbridge” and it was recorded live in a skating rink called USA. Where everyone in Hip Hop came to perform at that time in Queens on Queued Boulevard in a skating rink. One of my first DJs, who is a legendary Queensbridge called “Hot Day”. He worked there as a DJ. We were called the Super Kids.

Can you tell us more about the Super Kids, your first group?

It was me and Hot Day. We had a record “Go Queensbridge” and we did a record called “Coke is It.” “Coke is It” was the second record we did and we did that with NIA records with Marley (Marley Marl – Queensbridge Hip-Hop legendary pioneer – ed’s note). So I went from being MC Jade Ski to a group called Super Kids to Marley putting out The Tragedy “Coke is It.” We felt Marley wasn’t moving fast enough for us. So me and Hot Day were one of the first independent artists to start their own label, and it was called Hot Day Records. I was like 13 and he was 15. We started an independent label and pressed our own record up. We worked with a dude name Aaron Fuchs who put out Spoonie G’s records. In fact the “Go Queensbridge” track was off a Spoonie G instrumental and it was called “Take it Off.” We got it to the radio and they started playing our version “Go Queensbridge” more than Spoonie G’s record. So Aaron Fuchs who was the president and owner of Tuff City Records called the radio station and got our record blocked because we were getting more spins than their original record.

This was something we did as kids. And pioneered that independent movement as MCs starting their own label. We did this before No Limit, before Cash Money, and before a lot of these independents take form. Everybody ran to a major. Everyone ran to a budget. We felt Marley wasn’t moving fast enough and he was our only real connect to the entertainment business and industry. So we did it ourself. That’s how Super Kids was formed. After that, like I said earlier, I always had one foot in the music and one foot in the street.

How was your first meeting with Marley Marl and how did you become part of the Juice Crew?

I got inducted into the Juice Crew and was able to do the Juice Crew All Stars record but shortly after I got incarcerated and that’s when Marley did “The Symphony” and that’s why I wasn’t on “The Symphony”.

Can you tell us the story behind your name Intelligent Hoodlum and when and why at some point you become Tragedy Khadafi?

Intelligent Hoodlum was never my name. Intelligent Hoodlum was a concept that I came up with after I came home from my first bid. My first time being incarcerated. When I came home I was the only one who had his own 2 solo singles on Marley Marl’s “In Control Volume 1”. I had “Live Motivator” and “The Rebel”.

I was 16 in Elmira State Prison, in a Max A prison with dudes that were serving double life. So I’m 150 pound kid, 16 years old, going through puberty during the bid. I wasn’t even in High School and I’m upstate in a max prison with killers and the worst criminals in New York State. So in there I learned a lot because I seen things that were horrific. Some things were life altering, which I seen happen to people. By the grace of the most high, none of those things happened to me. It was like I was covered. Like tether was a bubble around me. At the time I didn’t realize how dangerous it was to be in there. Until I got home, got older, and look back at it. Then I look back I be like, that shit is crazy.

But while I was incarcerated I met individuals who are still locked up. Still ain’t come home. This is 30 something years ago. Most likely they won’t ever come out. A lot of them gave me a lot of jewelry.  Mental jewelry. Mind jewelry. They had me reading certain things and looking into certain things.

Before I went away I was ignorant to a lot of things. I was always smart in terms of academics. That was easy for me in school. I could have got scholarships, but my behavior and conduct was menacing because I was a kid out there starving.  Coming from a broken home. It was never a problem with me learning or having the capacity to learn. Especially when it came to science and literature. I always excelled at that. My behavior hindered me because I was going through a lot of things emotionally and mentally that a kid shouldn’t have to carry. A lot of burdens and a lot of weight was on my shoulders. Not to make a sad story out of it because it shaped me into who I am. I am actually grateful for the lessons but it did take its toll on me and I do bare some of the scars from that.

While I was incarcerated I came across a few serious individuals who I have a great respect for because they gave me certain knowledge to help change my life. I didn’t have an active father or a consistent father in my life. So my coming into manhood came by way of people who our society labels as menaces and animals and savages and destructors of life. But some of them, within their incarceration, and in their moments of isolation from society, they became very insightful and very intelligent and passed a lot of knowledge onto me. Make a long story longer…

I started to get books and information about my people I had no knowledge of prior to my incarceration. I thought blacks lived to be killers and gangsters, drug dealers and pimps and committing the most violence to be respected in a small scope of a neighborhood. When life and the world, and the quality of life was so much bigger in value and worth. But this is something I didn’t have any knowledge of and I didn’t understand until the sparks came by way of meeting people like Daddy O Hicks, Tony Rome, Malik Allah, and the brother Hassan. These are individuals who had me reading certain books like “Manchild in the Promise Land”, “Blood in My Eye” and I began to see a rich history with my people who were into making changes and combatting the system for justice and equality amongst my people.

Showing a different side and a different character and design of my people outside of the crime. Outside of detriment. Outside of destruction. It opened my mind up so much that when I came home and seen “Night of the Living Baseheads” by Public Enemy on Ralph McDaniels’ show.  I was blown away because when I went away the only people making that kind of video was Michael Jackson.  Making mini movies and you had the sketches in it.  It bounced in and out the track. Went into different scenes and different images and it just blew my mind. I was like, you can do that? And my man was like that’s the same group that did “Public Enemy Number One”. They took me in a whole different direction of consciousness and knowledge.

The initial spark started in prison but it was a process and it was a transition so much that when I came home and I started getting back into music, I was like I’m going to name my album Intelligent Hoodlum. And the spark was also when I read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley. He actually has a chapter in that book called Hoodlum. By me becoming more conscious of my people and the rich history of my people, not just their origins in Africa, but their struggles and their rises to advance their lives and educate themselves in the wilderness of North America. I was inspired by Malcom X story because I related to it. He was me and I was him. It opened up a lot in terms of possibilities. In terms of education. The difference between being educated and being qualified.

Someone could be educated without going to a college. Malcom X showed me you could educate yourself. He taught himself. He became so good at articulating himself that it drew me in. So when I came home my whole direction changed up. When I look back at it I went from zero to a thousand. It was very stream because I went from Tragedy to people calling me Intelligent Hoodlum. Intelligent Hoodlum was never my name. I named my first solo commercial release “Intelligent Hoodlum”.

Why at some point you become Tragedy Khadafi?

Khadafi came about when Hip Hop started taking on a different course of direction and you had Wu Tang and different groups taking on, and adopting mafia insignias. Don’t get me wrong, I got friends that I love that are Italian that are like funnily to me. But the commercial theme and the commercial symbolism of the mafia based on some of the traits and practices of the old day mafia circles and family. Initially, when the public became aware of their operations. They started creating movies like “The Godfather”. There was a scene in “The Godfather” where they had a meeting of the commission where they had drugs as means to empower their organization by selling heroin. One of the heads at the table said, “As long as you don’t sell it to our people, sell it to the blacks and the hispanics, and let them lose their souls.” I took that because I know there is some validity to that.

We all know movies are fabricated and scripted but something in me knew there was a validity to that statement and that course of direction in the mafia. And I just couldn’t take on the name of a people for an organization, at least what was depicted in the movie, that would look at me or people like me as being worthless and so expendable. At the time it was popular and dudes was taking on those aliases. So I wanted to take on someone who was rebellious, who was seen at the time as being anti establishment. But at the same time related to me and was strong. I looked up a few cats from the Middle East and Africa and Khadafi just rang a bell in me. I felt his story. He was the president of Libya. Homelessness was 1% in his country. He supported newlywed couples and gave them grants. He later made a powerful speech at the UN and said, “All Africans Unite”. Because he recognized he wasn’t a quote unquote ‘Arab’ that he was African. That’s important to me. I’m not anti white. I’m pro black. But being pro black doesn’t not make me anti white. If you don’t love yourself how you going to love me.

I love being black and I love black people. I’m not pro demoralizing me and those like me. So I couldn’t take on that type of name.  And that is how Khadafi came about.  That is how Tragedy Khadafi came about.  Which also helped spark the third world concept which led to the “War Report” and CNN and the whole infusing Arabian and terms like that into the music.

For the past few years you have been continuing to make music and release some projects. Can you tell us about your latest album with producer BP and your connection? 

I’ve been releasing a lot of independent records from my own company. Not chasing budgets and advances because I saw and realized I’m the product. I’m the plan. I’m the goods. I have a fan base. It may not be a quick reward upfront like an advance but now as a credible artist…people like to call me a legend and all this, but I would at least like to consider myself a pillar and staple of at least for the contributions that I have made to the culture within itself.

I have relationships where you don’t need an exaggerated budget to make a quality record. So I saw the value in utilizing those relationships. Along that journey I met people like Menza from Deep Concepts Media who hollered at me and said I go this producer who wants to do a song with you. So I went to the studio and did a verse and met BP in a studio in Long Island. One thing about me is I realize when there is a chemistry. And that is something you can’t fake. You have dudes who try to buy into the formulae and chase dudes who have a name. And I understand that. But there is more value and sincerity when you have a natural connection to someone. And it may not be personally at first but when there is something there musically, that is not something I overlook.

However, when I met BP I saw the union ahead of time. I did the verse. And I’m aggressive sometimes when I see something. I don’t know how to shut up. When I see something I have to speak on it. And I was like lets do an EP.  So BP being the craftsman he is, he actually had follow ups. Cause you know, sometimes you come across a beat maker or a producer (and there’s a major difference).  Some dudes make hot beats. Some dudes is producers that incorporate beat making and arrangements and turn it into a high production.  But when I met BP he understood my lane and what I wanted to do. So we linked up and did Immortal Titans: It just flowed.

I gotta commend BP on a personal level, not just the fact that he makes crazy, insane, beautiful Hip Hop to me, and that’s no bullshit. He’s just brilliant with his shit. The sound quality, his wisdom, his patterns are brilliant and it meshes with me. It’s a good fit. But also too on a personal level, we vibed out later more on a personal level and BP has helped me out a lot on a personal level as far as just being a human being and I respect that. So when it came down to Volume 2. It was only right. Don’t get me wrong. I knew we were going to make some hot shit and it would benefit me. Business wise but also I wanted to give to him too what he’s been giving to me, not just musically but life wise.  He’s been there for me through life’s challenges and I appreciate that. So I wanted to show that too musically and just get busy. With this project here I want people to take the time and embrace it. I really put my passion into it. I really put a piece of me in it because I’m passionate about the culture and BP he matches that production wise. So it just formed to be a great union. And I want to keep it going. I want to do volume 10.

I want to thank “Throw Up Magazine” for embracing me, this project, my history and my catalog. I want everybody out there who reads this who says, “there’s no real Hip Hop out anymore.” Pay attention to this. Pick up “Immortal Titans 2” and get in tune with this because this is Hip Hop. This is my and BP’s contribution to real Hip Hop. This is an art form and a culture and we put a piece of ourselves into it. So we want people to be appreciative of that and understand that.

What inspires you and still pushes you to make music today even though the tastes of average-listeners have changed so much?

The main thing that really inspires me to do what I do and stay true and sincere to my contributions to Hip Hop or BP and my contribution and style of music, the main thing that keeps me inspired is I love the culture. Not just my involvement. But I’m a fan of a lot of different groups and different artists. Some influenced me in my early stages. And some still continue to influence me even now in the current time. So now when I approach it, I have to come to it with a certain sincerity in order feel comfortable and feel true to something. Like I always heard when I was younger that, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” And to me, I always interpreted that as you should be true to yourself.

You should incorporate a level of integrity within your character the best way you can. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes your intentions can be misunderstood.  I’m no different from that. I’m not exempt from that.

I come from the streets. I come from the ground up. But throughout my journey in life, there are things you should work on staying true to and keep sacred because then you’re nothing. There are things you should stay true to. Not to say you shouldn’t grow but stay true to what you feel that truth is.

Last question! As we’re also a graffiti magazine, we would like to ask you if in the past there were graffiti writers among your friends or in your crew and how were seen graffiti writers in your hood at the time ( the 80s-90s)?

A culture is diverse. It is made up of many different aspects and art forms. You have dance, you have culinary, you have literature, you have music. I come from an era where Hip Hop was a diverse culture. You had layers to it. While as now, that has lessened in terms of being ins sync as one. It’s evolved so much, that there are so many different aspects. Degrees and variations of it. That it’s hard to connect the all together. But it’s still Hip Hop.

I come from a time. Where the Culture was more infused and in sync. And all of those variations of the art were embodied in that culture. I actually did graffiti. That’s why I had the name Jade Ski because that was originally my tag name in graffiti. So started tagging and doing graffiti before I started rapping.

Because it was so much apart of the culture. I used to break dance, equally as much as rapped because it was so much a part of the culture. I was all for the graffiti. I was down with that. I was with it. That was one, at one time in Hip Hop. I was heavy into that.


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