When people talk about classic East Coast rap albums from the 1990s they tend to get lost in Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), The Infamous, Illmatic, Ready to Die, and Reasonable Doubt. Yet, 1993’s Enta da Stage preceded all of them, its creators Black Moon unafraid to take rap into a new, raw direction, setting the high standards for everything that followed.
The heart of the group was 18-year-old wordsmith Buckshot, with the teenage rapper’s exuberant yet unhinged lyricism—on opener “Powaful Impak!” he compares his methods to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and boldly raps about “shooting a fair one with the devil”—going straight for the jugular. DJ Evil Dee, who handled the majority of the production, was the brain, effortlessly flipping Barry White and Donald Byrd samples into street anthems, with his scratching—on songs such as “How Many MC's...”—every bit as potent as DJ Premier. 5FT, meanwhile, was the spark, keeping the energy levels high and providing Black Moon with their mission statement on “Son Get Wrec,” where he barks: “It's time for us to misbehave / Whoever doesn't like it we can take it to the grave.”
Ringleader Buckshot may have been short in stature, but he had the vocal presence of a giant. In the chaotic video for “Who Got da Props?,” the group’s biggest hit, he pretty much invented the aesthetic of backpack rap, with the adolescent rapper’s down-to-earth swag influencing the dress code of everyone from Odd Future to Joey Bada$$—it’s no coincidence he’s now a mentor and consultant to the latter.
“We were just really confident kids,” Buckshot tells me, nearly 25 years later. “You gotta remember this was prior to the Wu-Tang, they hadn’t come out yet. Mobb Deep didn’t even blossom fully to what it became. I mean, Havoc is featured on our album [“U da Man”]. We opened doors. We showed you could be raw and unapologetically street, and still get on the radio.”
In essence, Black Moon were three teenagers desperate to escape the allure of drug dealing, each seeing music as a way to stay out of trouble in Brooklyn, New York. A lot of the jazz samples on Enta da Stage were captured from a cassette, with some of the vocals recorded during blunt smoking sessions in Evil Dee’s bedroom—this DIY approach to making music lends songs such as “Slave” and “Shit Iz Real” a visceral edge. The lyrics are almost exclusively about murdering enemies, smoking good weed, and evading the police. It didn’t really matter if Enta da Stage was a commercial success, so long as its creators were able to “turn the mic into blood stains,” as Buck pledges on “Niguz Talk Shit,” and not compromise on their raw sound.
The fact it went on to directly inspire everyone from Tupac to Eminem wasn’t a coincidence. Enta da Stage is the sound of teenage rebellion, the confidence of black adolescence captured on wax; inspiring themes, which gave the record a timeless feel. It remains the soundtrack of not giving a fuck, bottling the rebellious nature of being young and feeling like an outsider. Amid Donald Trump’s divided America, a place where black youth are often expected to step on eggshells, Black Moon’s unapologetic debut LP sounds absolutely vital.
DJBooth spoke at length with Black Moon’s Buckshot, 5FT, and DJ Evil Dee to discuss their classic debut, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The following conversation has been edited for clarity.
How did you guys meet?
5FT: We used to dance before we did the music. I would meet Buckshot at 4:30 a.m. and we would practice for hours and hours. We thought we had better moves than Michael Jackson.
DJ Evil Dee: I was putting together a talent show at high school. 5FT was the guy with the fly dance moves so I asked him to dance. He said he would only do it if he could bring his partner from the other side of Brooklyn, which just happened to be Buck. When Buck came through people naturally gravitated towards him—he had this groove. Buck told me he could write rhymes so that was it, as soon as the talent show ended, the three of us started making music. That’s how Black Moon was born.
Buckshot: It was a natural fit, we had so much chemistry. My dream was to get us into the ‘Unsigned Hype’ section of The Source. We had this tape called Black Moon on the Uprise—even Evil Dee was rapping on there! I kept sending it in and one day, in 1991, I finally saw it inside The Source. I lost my mind. It was the biggest thing in the world to me and I put it on my bedroom wall! It was validation that we were on the right path for Enta da Stage.
I always saw Enta da Stage as a more sinister version of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. It flipped the horns and bass lines of old jazz records in a similar way, but it felt darker and more dangerous…
Buckshot: Yeah, we were definitely jazz-orientated. Most of the music we listened to was jazz and underground hip-hop, so we fused those two worlds to make a different sound. We wanted to combine that 808 with that boom bap.
5FT: Dee and Mr. Walt, and their production collective The Beatminerz, were connected to the Tribe way before Black Moon got a deal. They were friends with Phife Dawg, but we wanted to take that Tribe sound somewhere even darker. We grew up on Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and Chuck D, so Enta da Stage was about combining all that into one neat package. It has that dark side, the party music, the hood appeal. It has a bit of everything.
Evil Dee: With Enta da Stage, me and Walt were taking these smooth jazz samples and adding ill drums to it. Walt had an amazing record collection so I was stealing his records. When he went to work, I would go into his bedroom and dig in the crates. Before he got home, I put it all back and he never even noticed. That’s how Enta da Stage was produced.
The hooks on the album are layered so loads of guys are yelling at once. It gives the feeling that the whole hood is in the booth with you. Was that intentional?
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DJ Evil Dee: I had this four-track and we would lay stuff down at my house. Once we had completed it, we would go to D&D Studios and work on it. The majority of the record was recorded at my house, though. It’s just a bunch of wild kids having a smoke, hanging, and creating music. That chanting sound is what Buckshot liked. We just knew people would respond to it and feel it right in their gut. Buck takes up a lot of the album in terms of rapping, but that’s because he came in the studio with about eight rhyme books filled with verses. He could freestyle too. 5FT didn’t write like that. He took his time. 5FT made up for it with his energy at the live shows though; he was the battery of the group. It was just such a good dynamic.
Buckshot: My sister danced for Smif-N-Wessun, so we had them in the studio with us doing ad-libs and we would all get wild and just shout the choruses together. It made the songs sound so big. I think Evil Dee did a good job of making that our staple sound. People laughed at it. The label [Nervous Records] kept saying you shouldn’t make this, as it needed to be less gully and more commercial. But in the long run, that chanting sound outlasted any pop trend.
Given you guys had such an uncompromising sound, did it surprise you when “Who Got da Props?” became a Billboard Hot 100 hit?
Buckshot: I didn’t know it would be that big. None of us knew. I just knew we had a fight on our hands. We knew we had to jump in the ring of hip-hop and go in there bussin’ our guns. When “Who Got da Props?" and “How Many MC's...” did well, it was a good feeling, but a surprise too. I came out a time where you just had to be you. As easy as that sounds, it is hard to do. A lot of people just follow trends and don’t have the ability to attract people. It was surprising, but people were attracted to what I did, they could see it was authentic and new. I am very small [in height], so I had to make a decision early on that I was going to go as hard as possible. [I had to make it clear that] nothing was going to intimidate me. Remember, this was before Mobb Deep blossomed into what it became [with The Infamous].
DJ Evil Dee: My friend Sham, he had this Jeep with the ill sound system. We would ride around the block and bump the instrumental to “Who Got da Props?” People bopped their heads. We drove by Forty Acres A Mule on Elliott Place and when I saw Spike Lee bopping his head too, I knew we had something special!
Everything came together with that “I Got Cha Opin" remix, which was also a Billboard hit. That Barry White “Playing Your Game, Baby” sample is so smooth and the video really articulates the concept.
Buckshot: The video shows the moon a lot as Black Moon is sort of like welcome to the dark side of the moon. The moon gives us light every day, it guides us, but it exists in a darkened space in the universe. It gives us life but still operates from such a dark space. That’s how we felt in the rap game. Yeah, we were underground and in the darkness, but we put life back into hip-hop. People look at how small we are, but still, we gave so much light to the people and had such an impact. Whenever you see a rapper wearing a backpack, you should think of Black Moon. We were the originators of that. That backpack represented the five elements of hip-hop, they were all inside it. I wanted to carry hip-hop on my back. The same way Kool Herc started hip-hop with a turntable, Black Moon made the backpack a staple in hip-hop.
I sense recording music also gave you guys an escapism. It put you on the right path, so to speak.
5FT: It was raw back in 1992-93. We were really on the block. We had to be careful at night. The block was hot. It was complicated. It was survival of the fittest, pretty much. The music kept us motivated. For me, I always tell people Black Moon was part of God’s plan.
Evil Dee: Buckshot rapped with so much maturity, he was an old soul, but you gotta remember we were just kids making music. For an 18-year-old, I know Buck had experienced a lot emotionally and was around a lot of people making real moves in the streets. We were forced to grow up quickly.
Enta da Stage was obviously super influential, yet didn’t pick up a Platinum plaque. Did that leave you feeling disillusioned?
5FT: Nervous, the label that put it out, specialized in house music. They didn’t understand us. They didn’t see the potential or it would have been a different situation today. We still here though, without the Platinum plaques. We are still here, so what difference would it make? I used to be mad. I used to be angry, like, "Damn, son, we don’t have the accolades!" But now I take that with a grain of salt because I am so grateful to be a part of hip-hop culture and to have made something that resonated with the people. Enta da Stage sounds like NYC at night. Everything was happening at night. If we were hanging and sparking it in the day, it would be a different sound. Our thing was always nocturnal; before there was light, there was darkness.
Buckshot: Putting out Enta da Stage was rough for me. I had just lost my pops. I was stuck on a label that didn’t want to acknowledge it was doing anything wrong. It was the height of my career, but I chose to make a sacrifice and open up Duck Down and bring groups through such as Heltah Skeltah and Smif-N-Wessun. I could have made more solo albums and followed the criteria of certain artists that reached a certain level, but I chose to put my energy into creating a label and being an entrepreneur even though I was so young. I helped create a whole movement with the Boot Camp Clik and Duck Down. I don’t regret a thing, though. It was all worth it.
Why are we still talking about Enta da Stage 25 years later?
DJ Evil Dee: It is kids telling their stories. And the stories they tell still go on today. We have problems in our communities. A lot of the stuff is still so relevant. Without realizing it, we made a timeless album. It bottles being a teenager and thinking you could rule the world, being rebellious. It’s 25 years old, yet people still come up to me and say it’s never left their disc changer. That’s so dope.
5FT: We had a love and passion for the music, and that shined through. When E played a beat, everyone gave their best. That is all you can ask for, everything else is up to God and actuality. We was young, so we were fearless, we had nothing to compare it to.
Buckshot: Enta da Stage represents doing what you want and what you feel. It doesn’t matter what the status quo say; fuck being commercial or fitting in with the crowd. It has a thick, heavy sound itself, the sound of “U da Man” or “I Got Cha Opin”—other people were scared to go there as it was too raw and underground. They didn’t dare to go there. We were in this small corner over here banging some good shit, doing what the hell we felt. No one could tell us nothing.